These islands DO have a proud history
You know, the story we all used to have by heart, of how our liberties were founded by Magna Carta, of defeating the Armada, of the Civil War, the Restoration, the Glorious Revo lution and the Golden Age that followed, of victory abroad and peace and prosperity at home?
There’s time enough in later life to find out that the reality is more complicated.
The basics are still true, the tale of an extra ordinarily lucky country uniquely blessed
by geography and nature, developing in two small islands one of the greatest civilisations the world has ever seen, based on individual liberty. Who wouldn’t be proud and pleased to be living in such a place?
And who – knowing these things – wouldn’t instinctively stand and defend those liberties against insolent authority, panic-mongering morons trying to make our flesh creep with exaggerated tales of terror, numbskull Ministers who can’t see why Habeas Corpus matters, wooden-headed coppers who want to be continental gendarmes, demanding our papers?
To be deprived of this knowledge is to be like the beneficiary of a generous will, whose wicked stepfather keeps him from knowing that this document, which could change his life for ever, is locked away in a safe.
I would have liked my own children to learn such proper history, except that by the time I found out the sort of confusing, demoralising trash that passes for history in today’s schools, it was too late.
As I gazed in disgust at the feeble, babyish pamphlets – designed in many cases to undermine the version I was taught – and scraps of photocopied paper which nowadays do the duty of textbooks, I wondered what had become of the histories I had studied.
They had vanished in some vast Sixties bonfire, in many ways as bad as Hitler’s book burnings, part of the great destruction of knowledge and continuity that took place in that accursed decade.
The revolutionaries knew that one of the things they had to destroy was the decent, modest patriotism that had until then been pretty much universal. How better to do that than to slander our past and conceal it?
Now, the publishers Stacey International have had the superb idea of reprinting the fine, elegantly written school histories of Carter and Mears, whose rediscovered pages took me back in an instant to a long-ago classroom.
Reading them now, I find many things that I had forgotten come to life again in my memory.
My only worry is this. That our young have been so deprived of the background to this history that they may not be able to make sense of it.
The voices of the past are drowned out by TV and computer slurry. The memories of grandparents are ignored or never discussed.
The village churches are locked and disused.
Hideous new build ings and brutal modernisers have obliterated or obscured what Philip Larkin called our ‘guildhalls and carved choirs’ and the other great monuments that used to make a walk down a British street a history lesson.
I hope not. Poor Poland, wiped from the map by the two worst tyrannies in history, its cities and culture utterly destroyed and its best men and women massacred and thrown into pits, recovered in a generation.
Our fate is nothing like as bad. We can recover what was lost. Make sure your children read these books, and encourage this fine enterprise.
Nicholas – British Tour Guide
HISTOURIES UK – The Best Tours in History