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English Traits of Emerson
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Great Britain
West England is called Cornwall.

The English

The English owe much to the beauty and landscape of their island. They have blended a very English way in language, customs, identity or character, afternoon tea, cricket and soccer. (Winn 2008, Preface)

A Yorkshireman is instantly recognisable from a Cornishman, a Geordie from a Man of Kent, by accent, by outlook, by appearance. So there are distinctive characteristics of people from different English counties with their different challenges and loyalties intertwined (Ib. "The English Counties)

A place for sheep

Many English tales have been saved (Jacobs 1890, 1894, etc.)

England has traditionally been quite a place for sheep. Sheep are clothed in wool, and British gentlemen are dressed in tweed, which is wool. A difference: The sheep is clothed in wool all the time, from head to tail, while the British gentleman may not be well described that way.

Climate changes have marred England a lot lately - Great Britain has also started the process of leaving the European Union, EU.

Some are killers

"Do all the good you can," said John Wesley, the English Evangelist (1703-1791). All do not take his gentle advice, as history has shown too often and well. Or maybe they had different opinions of what was good. For example, when killing others - called enemies - in a war makes a war hero, then killing others, such as several wives in times of peace, may be thought less of, far less of.

Into the History

England shares the island of Britain with Wales and Scotland, and is amazingly diverse. Some stories from England go way back, to the times of Celts, and to Romans who won and stayed in the country for centuries. Stories about Celts and Romans both mingle with legends. Other stories related to Angles and Saxons who came and settled and drove the Celts farther west, away from the flat plains. Danes came and took over north-east of England. And at one time the Danish King Canute ruled over England, Denmark and Norway. Harald Hardrada ("Harsh-ruler"], a Norwegian king, tried to take England in 1066 with a large Viking army, but failed. Normans led by the cruel and greedy William the Conqueror came to the island right afterwards, conquered and tyrannised Anglosaxons. Barons and knights that had fought for William, became lords with vast tracts of lands. Castles were built, first in wood and later in stone. Norman barons, knights and bishops replaced Anglo-Saxon earls and thanes and clergy. Twenty years after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, which William won, there was left only two major English landowners, one English bishop and three English abbots. Normans went on to give England taxes and tax records.

Improvements. In 1215, a conflict between the barons and the king led to the writing of "the Great Charter (Magna Carta)". It granted several rights to people, and the king was made to promise that he would not sell, deny or delay rights or justice to anyone. The Charter sought to limit how much the king could tax the population, and showed that the king should answer to his subjects.

Life for the conquered beneath the Normans and their descendants was tough, and the poor had few rights and few opportunities. Punishments were savage and cruel. However, towns grew, and some prospered until a plague arrived in 1348. There were three outbreaks over a 21 years span. During the first outbreak one third of the population died. Many who survived the disease, starved to death in the aftermath, when crops could not be harvested and goods could not be sold.

Commoners gathered and realised that under these new conditions they should kill tax collectors across the country. Peasants marched to London to protest, and the people of London joined the protest. Two meetings were held with the king, and the revolt abated. Tenant farming and paid labour replaced serfdom in fifty years from then.

A king wanted to divorce his wife, and much untoward followed. By wily or strategic marriages the kingdom grew until England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland were included under the crown. In the first half of the 1500s the Church of England separated from the Roman Catholic Church, for King Henry VIII wanted to be free to divorce a queen after about eighteen years of marriage, and the Church would not allow divorce . . . This triggered a series of events that led to a break between the Church of England and the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. Some of the events were associated with the wider process of the European Protestant Reformation and the religious climate at the time. Still, the English Reformation, which also included Wales and Ireland, was largely driven by a changed government policy: Based on Henry VIII's desire to annul his first marriage, the English Reformation was at the start more political than theological. (WP, "English Reformation"]

In 1642, civil war broke out. The king at the time lost, was beheaded, but the civil war continued without him. At last Great Britain had a dictator, Oliver Cromwell. Regional militias were set up to maintain order, suppress vice and encourage virtue. Drinking, gambling and horse-racing were banned. The militia interfered with free speech and liberty.

When Cromwell died in 1659, the people wanted a king again. When the new king had reigned for fifty years, a new plague hit England. And then, in September 1666, London burned for three days and nights. Much had to be rebuilt.

Much German blood on the throne of England - good! Kings succeeded one another. One of them lost America and went cuckoo.

During Queen Victoria's stable reign, starting in 1937, England found itself ruled by a woman who was 3/4 German, and who married a German relative. However, women had no right to vote then. Only as late as in the 1900s it came to pass.

[A source: The introduction in Keding and Douglas, 2005, passim]

Wars and worse and words by a US philosopher

There are undoubtedly charming Englishmen; I have often met them. But they are rarely our fellow-guests at hotels. - Guy de Maupassant

Some wars reflect mentalities, others hardly, and some not. The wars fought by England are many. (WP, "Military history of England", "Military history of the United Kingdom", "List of wars involving England", "List of wars involving Great Britain" and much else.)

The New England philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–82) spend some time in England. He voiced his opinions on the British in writing afterwards. He might not have advocated (prescribed) that the English be sent to war, but he did write, "Their drowsy minds need to be flagellated by war." Did he advise justly, were there no other ways for them, and was his opinion much worth, we may mull over. Anyway, there is more of this sort in Emerson's essay collection English Traits (1856). There he offers a character analysis of a people he himself stemmed from, treating all alike.

A look behind the scenes: Mistreating the Irish harshly and for long - how decent is that? Exploitations of many colonised parts of the world and suppressions of folks there reflect haughty tyrannical attitudes. In fact, English sold a lot of Irish people as slaves, as Vikings had done many centuries earlier. A people that sets out to make others slaves, is hardly kind-hearted, but ill-bred. In fact, King James II and Charles I led a continued effort to enslave the Irish. The Irish slave trade began when James II sold 30,000 Irish prisoners as slaves to the New World. His Proclamation of 1625 required Irish political prisoners be sent overseas and sold to English settlers in the West Indies. By the mid 1600s, the Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat in the Caribbean. At that time, seventy percent of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves. Most of the early slaves to the New World were actually white. John Martin goes on to inform that hundreds of thousands of Irish people were transported on British ships bound for the Americas. The slaves included men, women and even the youngest of children. Whenever they rebelled or disobeyed an order, they were punished severly - and rather often to death. [1]

Oliver Cromwell was not kind to the Irish either. He is still a hated figure in Ireland. [Cromwellian conquest of Ireland]

"A true friend . . advises justly . . . and continues a friend." said William Penn, the English Quaker leader who founded Pennsylvania.

English history glimpses, Literature  

Briggs, Katharine M. A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language. Part A and B. (2 Volumes). London: Taylor and Francis / Routledge, 2005.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. English Traits. New, rev. ed. Boston: James R. Osgood, 1876 (1856).

Hodgson, Nicola, and Peter Preston, eds. 2011. History of England and Ireland. New York: DK Publications.

Jacobs, Joseph, coll, ed. English Fairy Tales. London: David Nutt, 1890.

Jacobs, Joseph, coll, ed. More English Fairy Tales. London: David Nutt, 1894.

Keding, Dan, and Amy Douglas, eds. English Folktales. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited / Greenwood Publishing Group, 2005.

Lacey, Robert. 2003. Great Tales from English History: The Truth about King Arthur, Lady Godiva, Richard the Lionheart and More. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

McDowall, David. 1989. An Illustrated History of Britain. Harlow, Essex: Pearson Education / Longman.

Philip, Neil. English Folktales. London: Penguin, 1992.

Tibbits, Charles John. English Fairy Tales, Folklore and Legends. London: Gibbings, 1904.

White, R. J. A Short History of England. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Winn, Christopher. I Never Knew That about the English. London: Ebury Press / Random House, 2008.

  1. Martin, John. "White Slavery: The Slaves That Time Forgot". The Abolitionist.

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