The older England and the newer

The blog post title doesn’t refer to the current situation in which England (or the UK) is being morphed, unwillingly for the most part, into something else, while we here in the erstwhile U.S.A. are likewise being changed. No, the reference in the title is to a lecture given by English historian Edward A. Freeman, wherein he described his country and ours respectively as the older and newer Englands.

Back in the late 19th century when he was speaking and writing in America, there was a larger percentage of people who acknowledged English blood, or who were in fact mostly or entirely of English descent. He probably reached much wider audiences who identified with his themes than would be the case in 2019. He would have found fewer Anglophobes and more who considered themselves Anglophiles, even those with little or no blood ties to England.

He insisted that English-Americans were not foreigners to him and to the people of England, but kinsmen, and that idea meets with much more skepticism now; our respective countries have, paradoxically become more alike in our language (via transatlantic pop culture) but farther apart, much more so,  in recent decades in political matters, at least, and as England has become more multicultural and polyglot even than the U.S. I think this is by design; the whole Anglosphere is being divided socially and culturally and religiously.

But back in 1882, Edward Freeman wrote some rather inspiring words for Americans of English blood, reminding us of our heritage and our right to consider ourselves part of a great tradition.

“Here on your soil I am not indeed in mine own home but I am none the less among mine own folk. I am among men of my own blood and own tongue, sharers in all that a man of either England deems it his pride and happiness to share in. How can we be strangers and foreigners to one another, how can we be other than kinsfolk and brethren of the same hearth, when we think that your forefathers and mine may have sailed together from the oldest England of all in the keels of Hengest or Cerdic — that they may have lurked together with Aelfred in the marshes of Athelney — that they may have stood side by side in the thick shield-wall on the hill of Senlac — that they may have marched together as brethren to live and die for English freedom alike on the field of overthrow at Evesham and on the field of victory at Naseby?

I surely need not remind you that the whole heritage of the past, the history, the memories, the illustrious names, which belong to the earlier days of the English folk in Britain, are yours as well as ours. They are in the stricter sense your own. The men who piled up the mighty fabric of English law and English freedom were your fathers, your brethren, no less than ours. In the long line of hero-kings who built up the kingdom of England you have as full a share as we have; in building up the kingdom of England they were building up the commonwealth of America. If yours is the king who lurked in Athelney, yours too is the king who won the fight of Brunanburh. Yours are the king who waged the year of battles with the Dane and the king who waged the day of battle with the Norman. And if the kings are yours as well as ours, so are the men who curbed the powers of kings. Yours are the men who wrung the Great Charter from the kingly rebel; yours are the men who dictated the Provisions of Oxford and the men who gathered round the victor of Poitiers on the nobler field of the Good Parliament. Your share is alike with ours in every blow struck on behalf of freedom, from the day of Lewes to the day of Marston. And if we boast that we won to ourselves the men of other lands, if we changed the Dane and the Norman into Englishmen as true as if their forefathers had first seen the shores of Britain from the keels of Hengest, the work was yours as well as ours. The strangers whom we made especially our own, they whose names we read alongside the nobles of our native worthies, the men who came from the beech-clad isles of Denmark, from the deep Alpine valley of Aosta, from the Strong Mount that guarded the land of France against the Norman, to become Englishmen on English soil, Cnut the King, Anselm the Bishop, Simon the Earl — they are yours by the same law of adoption that makes them ours. And when the course of our history parts asunder, when the English people become two nations instead of one, if the history which you have wrought in Britain is no longer yours, in the same sense as is the common history which we wrought together in earlier times, still, we have a common interest, a common fellow-feeling, the feeling which follows the deeds of friends and kinsfolk with a different eye from that which it follows the deeds of strangers, in all that men of English blood have done on American soil since the older and the newer England parted asunder. And you too, I trust, have not ceased to look with the like feeling on all that men of English blood have done on British soil since the day when the newer England bade farewell to its political connexion with the elder, but did not, I trust, bid farewell to the far higher tie of a common blood, a common speech, the long glories of a common history.”

  • Edward Augustus Freeman, Lectures to American Audiences I: The English People in its Three Homes, 1882
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