Cause for adventure

Chapter XII, p. 192

“A minute account of what passed in one district at this time has come down to us, and well illustrates the general state of the kingdom. The south-western part of Kerry is now well known as the most beautiful tract in the British isles. The mountains, the glens, the capes stretching far into the Atlantic, the crags on which the eagles build, the rivulets brawling down rocky passes, the lakes overhung by groves in which the wild deer find covert, attract every summer crowds of wanderers sated with the business and the pleasures of great cities. The beauties of that country are indeed too often hidden in the mist and rain which the west wind brings up from a boundless ocean. But, on the rare days when the sun shines out in all his glory, the landscape has a freshness and a warmth of colouring seldom found in our latitude. The myrtle loves the soil. The arbutus thrives better than even on the sunny shore of Calabria, The turf is of livelier hue than elsewhere: the hills glow with a richer purple: the varnish of the holly and ivy is more glossy; and berries of a brighter red peep through foliage of a brighter green. But during the greater part of the seventeenth century, this paradise was as little known to the civilised world as Spitzbergen or Greenland. If ever it was mentioned, it was mentioned as a horrible desert, a chaos of bogs, thickets, and precipices, where the she wolf still littered, and where some half naked savages, who could not speak a word of English, made themselves burrows in the mud, and lived on roots and sour milk.”

The History of England, from the Accession of James II — Volume 3
Thomas Babington Macaulay

Shackled as I am by the intractable affliction of cold and flu it was all I could do upon arising from my lair late this afternoon to motivate and strengthen myself by any degree to grab (figuratively speaking) my copy of the History of England and to seek therein an element of purpose. Macaulay distinguishes himself on various levels; prosaically, grammatically, rhetorically, historically and adventurously. I hadn’t however expected to encounter his  facility as a travel writer. It is but one further reminder that in spite of the lapse of time over centuries the character of human absorption and activity has changed very little. The history (covering the17-year period from 1685 to 1702) is called the Whig interpretation of history but in many other respects it reflects the commonplace nature of humanity. Too often I have remarked that the historical accounts of conflict echo the immediate details of modern life; that the social preoccupations of kings, queens, lords, ladies, squires and servants are no different from those of men and women of our age.

There are however certain “tendencies” which pervert the similarities otherwise straddling the centuries. It appears that the most powerful empires from Roman times have adopted a similar posture of superiority. Macaulay’s England was for example openly disdainful of the savages of North America. The view of its other inhabitants was no less remote.

“WILLIAM had assumed, together with the title of King of England, the title of King of Ireland. For all our jurists then regarded Ireland as a mere colony, more important indeed than Massachusetts, Virginia, or Jamaica, but, like Massachusetts, Virginia, and Jamaica, dependent on the mother country, and bound to pay allegiance to the Sovereign whom the mother country had called to the throne.”

Knowing the belief each of us has about our own propriety only aggravates the ambition for cooperation and willingness among us all. Increasingly, as the reality of diversion overtakes, our ability for accommodation commensurately arises. In some instances we reckon the breeding of others enables a greater awareness. Strangely it is the same savages who are now gilded with a superior awareness of life’s tolerable peculiarities. Likewise the ancient cultures of Asia have insinuated what is by comparison the sterile nature of modern society. Yet I cannot listen to the hymn Jerusalem without being moved to tears.

And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon England’s mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold:
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land.