Monday, July 22, 2013

A Short History of England

I've been reading G. K. Chesterton's

A Short History of England
. It's not so much a history as some idiosyncratic commentaries on English history from an unconventional point of view. One early comment that got my attention:

...the Romans returned and turned Britain into a Roman province, they continued to display a singular indifference to questions that have excited so many professors. What they cared about was getting and giving in Britain what they had got and given in Gaul. We do not know whether the Britons then, or for that matter the Britons now, were Iberian or Cymric or Teutonic. We do know that in a short time they were Roman.

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2012-05-12). A Short History of England (Kindle Locations 93-96). . Kindle Edition.

However the Romans found Britain, they left it Roman, says Chesterton. Of course the same is true of much of the rest of Europe, and was true of much of the Middle East and North Africa. Despite repeated invasions from the barbarians of the North, England, he claimed, retained its roman character.

The English, in turn, made Australia, New Zealand and North America English, and the Spanish and Portuguese did similarly leave Central and South America Latin. France left a smaller footprint, but altogether they spread that new Roman wave to big chunks of the globe. The notable exception among the occupied is India.

Ten thousand plus years of separation had left the Aztec and Inca empires lacking in sufficient immunity to resist Eurasian diseases, and sufficient societal resources to resist Spanish civilization. India had thousands of years of contact with the West, and plenty of experience with their germs and Ideas, but even so appears to have been greatly transformed. The project of MacCaulay and his allies to make India English fell well short of success, but the imprint is unmistakable in its institutions and even language. India has far more English speakers than Britain, Canada, and Australia combined - though mostly as a second language, and that fact has played a key role in India's emergence as a modern technological country.