Monday, May 02, 2016


Protest against Uniformity

Alfred Austin (1835-1913), Haunts of Ancient Peace (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1908), pp. 21-22:
One cannot well drive about England with one's eyes open, without observing indication after indication of the strong, independent individuality of the English character, which may yet prove our best safeguard against that exotic 'Collectivism' of which we hear so much. The very landscape, its shapeless fields, its irregular hedgerows, its winding and wayward roads, its accidental copses, its arbitrariness of form and feature, are a silent but living protest against uniformity and preconceived or mechanical views of life. Who divided these fields? Who marked out these roads? No one did. They divided and marked out themselves just as strong characters divide and sever themselves from others, settle their own boundaries, and define irregularly their own place and position. A square field you will no more find in an English landscape than a round one. They are all informal, swerving and sweeping in and out in a manner unaccountable, which endows each of them with life and a kind of personality. The very lanes meander and zigzag so, you might almost think their course had been decided by the steps of some of our deeply-drinking Saxon ancestors, whose legs were more or less unsteady as they wended homeward after a day's thatching or threshing. That this irregularity of the landscape, so delightful to look on, is accompanied by a good deal of waste, from the economist's point of view, may be true enough. We are a thriftless people. But is not our unthriftiness part of our masculinity, part of the negligent bigness in the national character, which feels it can afford to be heedless of trifles and details, and in any case will on no account be reduced to slavish formality? Like the poet, England was born, not made, and has grown in its own lavish, wide-spreading fashion.

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