New Britannia: The Rise and Decline of Anglo-Australia,
by Alan James.
Review by Professor Andrew Fraser
Alan James has written a wonderful example of the ethno-history genre dealing with the past, present, and future of the Anglo-Australians. Mr James notes that a “national culture that was once extremely proud of its mainly English origins has degenerated to the point that ordinary Australians dare not or cannot speak up for their Anglo-Saxon heritage”.
There are at least two ways of writing the history of any ethnic group: from the inside or from the outside.
The detached, more or less objective approach of the outside observer is, ostensibly at least, the academic discipline of “ethnic history”. White Anglo-Saxon Protestant academics pioneered such arms-length studies of “the other”. By a curious irony of history the survival of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant people in Australia and elsewhere may now depend upon our capacity to develop a committed insider’s view of who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. Anthony D Smith, a well-known student of ethno-nationalism, calls this literary form “ethno-history”. Ethno-histories are often associated with a crisis of identity in the life of a nation, when its collective survival is in doubt. It is just such a crisis in the life of Anglo-Australia that has called forth this book.
A recurrent theme in the book concerns the “revolt of the elites” that has undermined the collective self-identity of Anglo-Australians. In his preface, Mr James holds up the expatriate art critic, ardent republican, and very well-connected Robert Hughes as the perfect illustration of “the sneering tone and smug self-satisfaction with which this elite dismisses its own caricatured version of the British — and mostly English — origin of Australia’s traditional culture”. Such an adversarial stance towards whatever feeble traces of an ancestral ethno-patriotism are still to be found among older Anglo-Australians has assumed the character of a cult among cosmopolitan university-educated upper-middle class WASPs.
The upper-middle class “cult of Anglophobia” was already well-established by the early seventies when I was contemplating migration to Australia from Canada. In fact, the “progressive” assault on WASP cultural and political hegemony was far more advanced in Canada. The dramatic ascent of Pierre Eliot Trudeau was the last nail in the coffin of the English Canada which once sang of the fabled “days of yore” when “Wolfe, the dauntless hero, came and planted firm Britannia’s flag on Canada’s fair domain”.
I could read the writing on the wall well before I graduated from law school in 1975. I was keen, therefore, to find a bolt-hole in Australia. Visions of a working man’s paradise (in a land without either snow or querulous, endlessly importunate “francophones”!) had lodged itself firmly in my then rabidly leftist consciousness. I eagerly read the radical nationalist histories of Australia produced by left-wing historians such as Russel Ward but I also came across the recently-published book by Humphrey McQueen entitled A New Britannia which aimed to debunk the “myths” of Australian radicalism and expose the essentially “racist” character of Australian nationalism.
I vividly recall being unaccountably annoyed both by the tone of McQueen’s book and by a remark made by one of my professors when I told him that I’d got a job in Australia. “Oh,” he snorted, “white Australia”! Even though I then considered myself to be a “libertarian Marxist,” I never doubted that the White Australia Policy was simple common sense for a British people isolated in the distant reaches of the South Seas. A “new Britannia” didn’t seem such a bad idea to me—the old one certainly wasn’t anything to write home about in the early seventies.
I took pleasure on arrival down under in the still-visible signs of Australia’s British identity such as stroppy trade unions, tea ladies in academic common rooms, and red telephone boxes. Reading Mr James’ book, I was again struck by the powerful similarities between the proudly British culture of colonial Australia and the loyalist traditions associated with the part of Canada where I was born and raised.
The story that Mr James tells of the development of Australia from a predominantly English colony to a nation of “independent Australian Britons” is therefore one familiar to English-Canadians of my generation. So, too, is the depressing denouement of the story.
Ethno-history helps to generate a complex of myths and symbols that provide people with a coherent sense of collective identity. Unfortunately, Anglo-Australians, like English-Canadians and, indeed, every other white Anglo-Saxon Protestant people, allowed the nation-state to become the vehicle and primary repository of that collective identity.
In the era of globalization, the state (in co-operation with the transnational corporate sector) has de-coupled itself from the nation in every erstwhile Anglo-Saxon country. Mr James describes how the White Australia Policy was undermined and replaced by the ongoing campaign to transform Australia into a multi-racial system that amounts to “institutionalised racism” targeting Anglo-Australians.
In considering the future prospects of Anglo-Australia, Mr James fears that only a “massive external shock” or the presently unforeseeable “moral reinvigoration of our people” will save Anglo-Australians from extinction. But he points out that “all people of Anglo-Saxon and related origin” have a stake in the survival of the Anglo-Australians as a distinctive ethno-nation.
Mr James is convinced that Anglo-Saxons “around the world can learn from Australia’s cultural experiment”. This book will help them do so. It also provides young, mis-educated, Anglo-Australians with an indispensable introduction to the historical achievements of their British ancestors together with a clear-sighted account of the challenges facing them and their children.
With any luck, this book will also encourage readers, both old and young, to learn from the history of other Anglo-Saxon nations. Anglo-Australians no less than English-Canadians and indeed the English themselves desperately need to rediscover the ethno-religious solidarity that even our famously individualistic ancestors imbibed with their mother’s milk.
Thanks in part to Mr James, the dream of a new Britannia is not dead, buried, and forgotten; it may still have a place in our future. In a multi-racial, increasingly corrupt Empire based on the unholy alliance between the neo-communist left and transnational corporate capital, a postmodern confederation of more or less autonomous Anglo-Saxon tribes may turn out to be an essential life support system for people of British descent all around the world.
New Britannia: The Rise and Decline of Anglo-Australia by Alan James. Melbourne: Renewal Publications, 2013.
Andrew Fraser studied both law and history in Canada and the United States. After moving to Australia, he taught legal history and constitutional law at Macquarie University in Sydney. He is currently undertaking a Bachelor of Theology course at United Theological College, an affiiataite of Charles Sturt University.
The British Dream:
Successes and Failures of Post-war Immigration
(Atlantic Books, London)
A quarter of the children in British primary schools are now from ethnic minorities. Given that mass immigration continues, and that the new immigrants often have larger families, more and more white British people will soon be minorities in what was once their own land – as they already are in London itself where, according to the 2011 census, only 44.9 per cent of Londoners are “white British”.
How did things come to such a pass?
About two million non-European immigrants flocked into Britain from 1948 to 1998. But in the next fifteen years three million more non-whites were added to the population. The immediate cause was the election of Tony Blair’s New Labour government in 1997. In Blair’s first year, net immigration shot up from just 48,000 to 140,000. It then escalated even more sharply.
Why did the Blair government wish to flood Britain with non-traditional migrants? This is a question that Goodhart clearly has no wish to confront.
But Andrew Neather, a former Blair adviser, revealed much of the story. His 2009 article in the Evening Standard discussed a policy paper from the Performance and Innovation Unit, a Cabinet-based think tank. Neather wrote that the published version of this report argued for mass-immigration on economic grounds, but versions that were never published contained another reason: “that mass immigration was the way that the Government was going to make the UK truly multicultural. I remember coming away from some discussions with the clear sense that the policy was intended … to rub the Right’s nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date.”
In other words, Blair wanted to flood the country with non-whites so as to spite his opponents by making multi-racial Britain a fait accompli.
Not that David Goodhart cares. Despite touting himself as a left-liberal who has seen the light, his beef is with the policy of multiculturalism rather than the demography of multi-racialism.
Multiculturalism, he believes, has been handled poorly. Essentially, too many non-white immigrants in “stuck communities” haven’t integrated – which mainly means they are, as he puts it, “heavily welfare-dependent”.
But as far as the separate matter of multi-racialism is concerned, Goodhart states: “… mainstream sceptics of multiculturalism, myself included, are quite comfortable with the principle of a multiracial country.” In this one sentence he gives away his whole game. A Britain in which the Anglo-Celtic people are overwhelmed by soaring non-white numbers is welcome to Goodhart and his fellow travellers. Indeed, anyone who differs from this judgment is dismissed as not a “mainstream” critic of the current anti-white policy.
Goodhart claims he has travelled the length and breadth of the country, talking to people about immigration. It seems he confined himself to those who agreed with him. Or, at least, to people who think the word “racism” is a useful shibboleth to sort out the smug Establishment insiders from those pesky folk who think race is something deeper than skin colour.
Although Goodhart is constantly at pains to deny being a “racist”, his only direct discussion of the word is almost comical. He says that racism “… comes in two, usually related, forms. There is the belief in the inherent superiority of one race over another … The other form of racism is just straightforward antipathy to a particular race or to all races other than your own, without any necessary hierarchy of superiority” (p. 110)
Goodhart evidently has no knowledge of modern scientific investigation of the genetic reasons why different races have different behavioural preferences. He therefore can’t understand that a multiracial society is always one in which the various races compete to establish the dominance of their own preferred behaviours. This is, of course, quite a separate matter from any notions of racial superiority or inferiority. It is simply a natural human desire to live in a society that caters to our racially inherited behavioural traits, our phylogenous instincts and intuitions and dreams.
Ironically, Goodhart recognises this idea when it is expressed by a coloured man. Thus he quotes the following from Kenan Malik’s 2009 book, From Faith to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and its Legacy: “Black people … should not be forced to accept British values or to adopt a British identity. Rather different peoples should have the right to express their own identities, explore their own histories, formulate their own values, pursue their own lifestyles.”
But Goodhart would not allow these “rights” to native British people. Instead, British whites, and also any “stuck” (ghetto-forming) non-whites, should be compelled by the government to “integrate” (merge). A few of Goodhart’s suggestions to this end may be mentioned here. For instance, the taxpayer must fork out for the teaching of competent English to the “nearly 3 million people [who] live in homes where no one speaks English as a first language”. Schools that are still largely mono-racial should be forcibly “desegregated”, with non-white quotas, PC propaganda, compulsory bussing, and any and all activities that “involve mixing across ethnic boundaries” – such as school twinning.
The final section of Goodhart’s book is a fantasy about the multi-racial Britain he would like to see in the near future. It is a nation of ID cards, one where the Ministry of Defence runs a “six-month compulsory citizenship service programme for all young people, to be completed between the ages of seventeen and twenty-five”. It is a society with “an explicit goal of mixing both social classes and ethnicities in the fifty-strong ‘units’ that were the building blocks of the programme”. White and non-white schools are forcibly “integrated” (merged). The careers of non-whites are fast-tracked in the military and police forces. The main political parties are led by “black ex-public schoolboys” and a happy UK has “its first black prime minister”.
Goodhart’s fantasy reveals just how vile the multi-racialists really are. His dream of a black-dominated Britain necessitates the withering away of the Anglo-Celtic people whose achievements made Britain such a magnet for migrants since 1948. Goodhart is arguing for the genocide of Britain’s native white population. Not figuratively, but quite literally. As Garret Hardin famously wrote:
‘If, “other things being equal,” there are advantages to being numerous, then in time the slowly reproducing population will be displaced by the fast one. This is passive genocide. It may be that no one is ever killed, but the genes of one group replace the genes of the other. That’s genocide.’
Goodhart must know this. But the UK has already served its purpose for Goodhart’s kind. As the London Evening Standard reported on 20 November 2014: “His Jewish immigrant grandfather, Arthur Lehman Goodhart, was Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford and Master of University College; his father, Sir Philip Carter Goodhart, was a Conservative MP; his uncles include the QC Baron Goodhart and the economist Charles Goodhart.”
Maybe we should just fade away
Douglas Murray, The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, Bloomsbury, 2017, 343 pages
Douglas Murray’s 2017 book, The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam , is exactly what the Politically Correct Europhobes and Anglophobes should try to force themselves to deal with. They won’t, because their problem is a sick form of self-hatred that they project on to the rest of us. But maybe many more people will be tugged toward some sort of understanding of the unfolding tragedy of Europe by this best-selling book.
Murray is concerned about the long-term consequences of Middle-Eastern, North African, and sub-Saharan mass-immigration to Europe. What will it mean for the people who were born and bred in traditional European societies to be overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of allegedly “peaceful” but very “different” self-selected immigrants?
As Murray reveals, one of the things it means is the continual mass-rape of indigenous European teenagers by Third World invaders.
Douglas Murray is by no means the first person to expose what happened in North Yorkshire. But he describes it concisely:
An official enquiry into abuse in the town of Rotherham alone revealed the exploitation of at least 1,400 children over the period 1997-2014. The victims were all non-Muslim white girls from the local community, with the youngest victim aged 11. All had been brutally raped, some had also been doused in petrol and threatened with being set on fire. Others were threatened with guns and forced to watch the violent rape of other girls as a warning should they tell anyone about the abuse. The inquiry into the abuse found that although the perpetrators were almost all men of Pakistani origin, operating in gangs, staff of the local council described their ‘nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought as racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so.’ The local police were also found to have failed to act for fear of accusations of ‘racism’ and of what this might do to community relations. (page 55)
Rotherham was not unique. All over the UK, and in Continental Europe, white European girls were being raped in their tens of thousands by dark-skinned men, mostly Muslims.
In the summer of 2014 the ‘We Are Stockholm’ music festival took place as normal. Except that at the event dozens of girls as young as 14 were surrounded by gangs of immigrants, particularly from Afghanistan, molested and raped. Local police covered up the case, making no mention of it in their report on the five-day festival. There were no convictions and the press avoided any mention of the rapes. Similar organized rapes by migrant gangs occurred at music festivals in 2015 in Stockholm and Malmö among other cities. The figures were extraordinary … By 2015 Sweden had the highest level of rapes per capita of any country in the world after Lesotho. (pages 250-1) [i]
Research published in Denmark in 2016 showed that Somali men were around twenty-six times more likely to commit rape than Danish men, adjusted for age. (page 251)
On a daily basis from 2015 onwards there were reports of rapes in German streets, in communal buildings, public swimming baths and many other locations … But everywhere the subject of rape remained underground, covered up by the authorities and deemed by most of the European media not to be a respectable news story. (page 196)
In 2009 police in Norway revealed that immigrants from non-Western backgrounds were responsible for ‘all reported rapes’ in Oslo. (page 56)
Perhaps the authorities in these countries should have learned from the experience of Australia in 2001, when more than fifty white Anglo-Australian teenage girls were hunted down on the streets of Sydney by organized rape-gangs made up of Lebanese Muslims. As with the cases cited by Murray, these child-victims were let down by the entire establishment, including the police, the courts and the media. Their brutal assailants were only brought to trial because a handful of decent police and journalists “broke ranks” from the establishment’s cover-up position – and then the rapists only received wrist-slap sentences. [i]
It needs to be noted, by the way, that Sydney’s Lebanese rapists taunted their victims on racial (not religious) grounds. The girls were attacked not because they were Christians, and not because they were atheists, but solely because they were Anglo-Australians.
How did our formerly peaceful and tolerant nations come to be inundated with people who are so full of hatred that they will use child-rape as a weapon in what amounts to a one-sided racial war? Well, Douglas Murray gives us a comprehensive history. He reveals the cynicism, the self-serving arrogance, even the psychotic self-hatred of the political/media establishment. His account is fully referenced, as one would hope from an Associate Editor of the Spectator, so all of his revelations can be verified.
Along the way he also torpedoes the few arguments the establishment repeatedly uses to justify its betrayal of our civilization and our people. More importantly, he does so with both wit and concision. For instance, it is still common to hear establishment politicians citing their spin-doctor economists to claim that Third World immigration is good for the economies of Western nations. These subsidized economists essentially argue that the larger the population of a nation, the larger is that nation’s GDP. They are right. But GDP is not a valid measure of cultural decency or national livability. For instance, a nation like the old Soviet Union generated a fair bit of its GDP by employing people to send other people to the Gulags, or to spy on their workmates and even family members. Hardly appealing! Yet most people don’t really understand the specious arguments of establishment economists, so it’s necessary to cut through with short, sharp and maybe folksy language. Here is Murray cutting through:
The reality is that whatever its other benefits, the economic benefits of immigration accrue almost solely to the migrant. It is migrants who are able to access public facilities they have not previously paid for. It is migrants who benefit from a wage higher than they could earn in their home country. And very often the money that they earn – or much of it – is sent to family outside the United Kingdom rather than even being put back into the local economy. (page 43)
In short, the current self-selected migrants to the UK and Western Europe don’t contribute. They take. And often they even send what they take back home to the Third World. Quite likely, in many cases, to pay people-smugglers to get more of their own kind into the generous societies that we have created.
Murray suggests that the (actually non-existent) “economic benefits” of Third World immigration to European societies are presented to the citizenry as a bribe. They are the carrot. The stick is the threat that Western societies like ours are “ageing” and therefore we need to bring in masses of younger, Third World people to look after us in our old age. Here is Murray in full flight on this issue:
There are also predictable factors that are wholly ignored – such as the fact that immigrants get old as well. Surprising though it appears to be to many policy-makers, importing large numbers of young immigrants does not solve the ‘greying’ population issue, because immigrants become ‘grey’ as well, and when they do they will expect … the same rights as everybody else. The logical conclusion is that the short-term solution becomes an even greater long-term headache, because there will be a constant need to import larger and larger numbers of immigrants, as in a pyramid scheme … (page 49)
In this reviewer’s opinion Douglas Murray does a superb job of exposing the moral corruption, the self-serving lies, and the existential angst of the contemporary European establishment. Murray is also fully aware that many working-class and middle-class Europeans do not share the suicidal urges of those who rule over them.
It appears that we are now seeing a new form of class warfare. The current ruling class wishes to abolish Western civilization and the white race that created it, merely or perhaps mostly because of their own psychiatric problems. On the other hand, white people who are not part of the effete establishment have no desire to be abolished. Push will eventually come to shove. So what can Douglas Murray see in his crystal ball?
The short but sad answer is: Nothing much.
Murray’s two last chapters are almost pathetic. Chapter 18 is titled “What might have been”. It is full of band-aid measures that fail to address the existential problem. Chapter 19 is titled “What will be”, and it’s even worse. It concludes:
The public may want many contradictory things, but they will not forgive politicians if – whether by accident or design – they change our continent completely. If they do so change it then many of us will regret this quietly. Others will regret it less quietly. Prisoners of the past and of the present, for Europeans there seem finally to be no decent answers to the future. Which is how the fatal blow will finally land. (page 320)
Really! A whole scholarly book devoted to explaining how our corrupt, treasonable establishment has let us down, has tried to abolish us as a people, ends up by suggesting that maybe we should just fade away. Get it over with. Abdicate. We white folk, and especially British folk, whose ancestors created the greatest achievements of the human species, should just “regret” the fact that our ruling classes decided we were replaceable in our own homelands by alien people who are often motivated by hatred of our kind, and frequently express that hatred by raping our children.
Must we just fade away, in the face of all this establishment-sponsored barbarism and crime? Is there no alternative?
Douglas Murray devotes five pages to Jean Raspail’s seminal 1973 novel, Camp of the Saints, which most people reading this review will have presumably encountered. Murray calls the book “strange”, “notorious”, “deeply unpleasant”, “a racist tract”, and so on. (But to his credit, Murray also acknowledges that it predicted the massive Third World invasion of Europe in 2015.)
In 1982 Jean Raspail spoke openly about the Third World invasion of Europe. As quoted in Murray’s book (page 116), Raspail said that the invasion:
… presented a problem absolutely insoluble by our present moral standards. To let them in would destroy us. To reject them would destroy them.
However, Murray fails to comment on this superb intuition.
Rather than collapsing into some sort of post-Western idea of our people just fading away and disappearing, as some 19th century anthropologists thought Australia’s Aborigines would do, maybe we need to re-think some things in favour of our own children’s survival. And maybe we should do so outside the terms of the self-defeating morality that Raspail referred to.
Maybe what Raspail called “our present moral standards” back in 1982 have already been surpassed by higher, more life-affirming moral standards today. I hope so. And I hope that Douglas Murray might gain more from the moral insights of Jean Raspail than he has acknowledged so far.
In order to do so, though, Murray would have to face up to some very inconvenient but relevant facts. One of these is a matter that Raspail himself didn’t dare consider. To his great credit Murray at least makes a start. He briefly mentions Barbara Roche, who as Minister for Asylum and Immigration under PM Tony Blair encouraged the biggest influx of Third World migrants that the UK has ever seen. As Murray tells it:
While the Prime Minister was concentrating on other matters, Roche changed every aspect of the British government’s policies. From here onwards all people claiming to be asylum seekers would be allowed to stay in Britain – whether they were genuine or not – because as she informed one official, ‘Removal takes too long, and it’s emotional’. Roche also thought the contemporary restraints on immigration were ‘racist’ and that the whole ‘atmosphere’ around the immigration debate ‘was toxic’. Over her period in office she repeatedly stated her ambition to transform Britain …
… Wherever there was any criticism of her policy, either internally or externally, Roche dismissed it as racist. Indeed Roche – who criticised colleagues for being too white – insisted that even the mention of immigration policy was racist. What she and a few others around her sought was a wholesale change of British society. Roche – a descendant of East End Jews – believed that immigration was only ever a good thing. Ten years after the changes she had brought about she told an interviewer with satisfaction, ‘I love the diversity of London. I just feel comfortable’. (pages 19-20)
Another Barbara who wants a wholesale change in the country that accepted her is Barbara Lerner Spectre, who runs a taxpayer-funded study group in Sweden. According to Spectre in 2012:
I think there is a resurgence of anti-Semitism because at this point in time Europe has not yet learned how to be multicultural. And I think we are going to be part of the throes of that transformation, which must take place. Europe is not going to be the monolithic societies they once were in the last century. Jews are going to be at the centre of that. It’s a huge transformation for Europe to make. They are now going into a multicultural mode and Jews will be resented because of our leading role. But without that leading role and without that transformation, Europe will not survive. [iii]
It is a shame that Murray doesn’t engage with Roche’s thinking, or report Spectre’s infamous comments – which he must have known about.
Is Spectre right about Jewish involvement in the replacement of indigenous European populations? If so, what conclusions should non-establishment Europeans draw? Or is she delusional? And if so: again, what conclusions should be drawn by those Europeans she wishes to make redundant and eventually extinct?
These and many other “dangerous” questions will have to be asked if anything resembling traditional European civilisation is to survive. At least Douglas Murray has opened many windows on a subject that the political/media class, the ruling establishment, has long been determined to keep shuttered.
[i] See also: Cheryl Benard, ‘I’ve worked with refugees for decades. Europe’s Afghan crime wave is mind-boggling’, The National Interest, 11 July 2017: http://nationalinterest.org/feature/ive-worked-refugees-decades-europes-afghan-crime-wave-mind-21506?page=show, accessed 18 July 2017
[ii]Alan James, New Britannia: The rise and decline of Anglo-Australia, Renewal Publications, 2013, pp 170-175
“The land of lost content”
Peter Parker, Housman Country: Into the Heart of England, Little, Brown, 2016
Peter Parker’s 2016 book, Housman Country, offers to do something that is long overdue. As its Preface announces: “My principle intention has been to investigate what I have called ‘Housman Country’, an English sensibility in which literature, landscape, music and emotion all play their part, and which finds one of its most perfect expressions in Housman’s poetry.”
It would be reasonable to see this as a quest for the mystical, or at least emotional, concept of Shropshire as “an emblem of England” that appears in A. E. Housman’s poetry, and to which several generations of Anglo-Celtic poetry lovers around the world have responded enthusiastically.
Generally speaking, Mr Parker delivers on his promise. We should be especially grateful for his chapters on “English Landscape”, “English Music” and “The Rediscovery of England”, which are delightfully wide-ranging in the scope of their research and their lead to many satisfying insights.
“English Landscape” takes its cue from the fact that Housman’s most popular poetry collection, A Shropshire Lad, published in 1896, is set in a part of the county of Shropshire that is still idyllic today: the area around the ancient market town of Ludlow. It includes the Clun valley, with its seemingly endless brooks and streams, its gentle hills, its woods and coppices, and its many charming villages and hamlets. Of the latter, Housman quoted an apt local rhyme:
Clunton and Clunbury,
Clungunford and Clun,
Are the quietest places
Under the sun
They are still there, rural and quiet. Yet in Housman’s day most English people lived in cities; and as Mr Parker points out, they had to be told by Murray’s Handbook for Shropshire and Cheshire (1879) that “There is so much variety in [Shropshire] that it may be considered an epitome of England”. Mr Parker himself comments: “Britain may have become the world’s first urban industrial society, but for many of its inhabitants in 1896 ‘England’ still meant a tranquil pastoral landscape of small villages, ancient parish churches, picturesquely thatched cottages and teams of horses ploughing the fields. This dream of England has proved highly resilient, remaining part of the nation’s iconography long after the last working horses were put out to pasture.”
Mr Parker is no sentimentalist. He knows all about the rising crime rates in a late-Victorian society that was being riven by disruptive technological innovation. Yet in his chapter on “English Landscape” he is able to explain just how successful Housman’s poetry was in stabilising the concept of Shropshire as an epitome of traditional England in the popular mind.
If anything, Mr Parker’s chapter on “English Music” is even more necessary – and even more full of erudite but important facts. Who, from today’s perspective, might possibly imagine that a German writer (Oscar Schmitz, 1904) could have described England as Das Land ohne Musik – “the land without music”? Incredibly, despite England’s leading role in European music from the time of Sumer is Icumin In, through to the rise to dominance of the European orchestra, Schmitz wrote that England was “the only cultured nation without its own music”. Even more incredibly, there were many English-born “experts” who agreed with him.
Yet at the same time there were enlightened devotees of the English rural tradition who went to great lengths to collect traditional folk-songs from the last elderly rural folk who knew them. One of these was the Melbourne-born Australian musical genius, Percy Grainger. It is pleasing to see that Percy gets a mention in Mr Parker’s book, yet he deserves far more space. Percy had a way of setting uneducated rural people at their ease, and extracting songs from their often-reluctant memories. Here there is an internet link to the Grainger Museum in Melbourne: http://grainger.unimelb.edu.au/
Mr Parker’s third important chapter is “The Rediscovery of England”. I don’t wish to summarise these 29 pages. If you have read this review so far, you probably have anticipated Mr Parker’s main point about Housman as a rallying figure for the concept of Englishness. But this chapter is worth reading beyond any comment I could make, because Mr Parker has such a wise way of expressing his views on almost everything connected with Housman.
Are there any negatives in Mr Parker’s otherwise delightful summary of the cultural significance of A. E. Housman?
Yes. Mr Parker is obsessed with the idea that Housman was a homosexual. Despite the fact that Mr Parker ransacks Housman’s poetry for any possible reference to homosexuality, he admits: “The truth is that although we now know a good deal about Housman’s emotional life, we still know absolutely nothing about his sex life”. Amen to that. My own guess is that Housman was possibly celibate – but we will never know.
Still and all, I think that Mr Parker’s obsession with Housman’s sexuality is merely a blemish on an otherwise delightful book for anyone who is interested in the idea of how great poets can exert an influence on how we see ourselves as a people.