The country gentleman

It was very seldom that the country gentleman caught glimpses of the great world; and what he saw of it tended rather to confuse than to enlighten his understanding. His opinions respecting religion, government, foreign countries and former times, having been derived, not from study, from observation, or from conversation with enlightened companions, but from such traditions as were current in his own small circle, were the opinions of a child. He adhered to them, however, with the obstinacy which is generally found in ignorant men accustomed to be fed with flattery. His animosities were numerous and bitter. He hated Frenchmen and Italians, Scotchmen and Irishmen, Papists and Presbyterians, Independents and Baptists, Quakers and Jews. Towards London and Londoners he felt an aversion which more than once produced important political effects. His wife and daughter were in tastes and acquirements below a housekeeper or a stillroom maid of the present day. They stitched and spun, brewed gooseberry wine, cured marigolds, and made the crust for the venison pasty.

Excerpt From
Thomas Babington Macaulay
“The History of England, from the Accession of James II — Volume 1”

When I was inching my way with my stick towards the entrance of the Antrim Truck Stop in Arnprior earlier today, a young gentleman held the door for me. He preceded his unexpected magnanimity with a cheery almost boisterous, “G’Day!“, the recognizable Valley slang for hello. We then together exchanged the customary platitudes regarding the weather and one’s health. The entire encounter instantly made me feel at ease and at home.  In fact it was reminiscent of one of my earliest acquaintances with the (Ottawa) Valley when I arrived in Almonte many years ago in 1976. I witnessed a parade in which a large flag flew with the identical expression, “G’Day”. At the time I hadn’t complete appreciation of its signficance as I now do. It is both an ornament and a hitch.

It is easy to diminish the prestige of country folk.  The competion of the City Mouse and the Country Mouse has for example been eternally exemplified by my favourite hard-copy magazine “Country Life”, a subscription to which to this day I would still apply were it not overtaken by electronic everything through computers, iPads and iPhones.

More importantly than the literary renditions of the brewing discontent between city people and country folk is the misunderstanding of one critical element of each posture; namely, neither has any intentiion of changing.  Not long after arriving in Almonte I met an elderly businessman who unabashedly informed me that he had never been to the City.  I confess that in spite of the rarity of the observation I was nonetheless proud of him and marveled at his conviction. Especially now with the headway of my own age I find increasingly I wilfully advance the intelligence that I too can bear the deprivation of the City.  Only days ago upon returning from an evening of dining in the City we both unhesitatingly agreed that hereafter social conventions in the City after darkness are off the board. Apart from the gravity of the conditions, the willingness to meet the challenge has long ago evaporated.

Naturally there are many residents of the country who, by strength of their heritage, education, accomplishment and obvious personal preferences, have elevated the distinction of rural inhabitance. One such devotee is the daughter of the former owners of one of the City’s most celebrated furriers. Another the former President of the Rideau Club. Still others include the former President of the Bank of New Zealand, the founder of Lee Valley Tools, lawyers for Toronto corporations owing mining companies in nearby Lanark Highlands, retired senior generals of the Canadian Armed Forces, a Federal Court Justice and a plethora of talent from Northern Ontario as well as from tiny local villages and towns, people who have by design committed themselves to country living and have made their name and their fortune in the country.

One of the distinctions of country living is the equanimity of society by which I mean the uniformity of relationships notwithstanding conventional and exclusive differences. Unquestionably an element of that distinction is the unfettered relationships between people of all nature, limitation and qualification. There is no hiding behind veneer of any description. As for the historic allegation of hatred and inconsequence which allegedly persisted in the erstwhile country mode, I fully accept its survival with the marked difference that any such pleasantries and prejudices are normally easily defeated on the heels of communication.