St. George’s Day – Enoch Powell

Enoch Powell speech on England. Once or twice at most in a lifetime a man ought to be allowed, as you have done me the honour to allow me tonight, to propose this toast. Introspection for a nation, as for an individual, is an unhealthy attitude unless it be sparingly practised; but from time to time and Englishman among other Englishmen may without harm, and even with advantage, seek to express I na spoken words just cause to praise his country. There was a saying, not heart today so often as formerly, “What do they know of England who only England knows?” It is a saying which dates. It has a period aroma, like Kipling’s Recessional, or the state rooms at Osborne. The period is that which the historian Sir John Seely, in a now almost forgotten at once immensely popular book, called “The Expansion of England”. In that incredible phase, which came upon the English unawares, as all true greatness comes unawares upon a nation, the power and influence of England expanded with the force and speed of an explosion. The strange & brief juncture of deep and invincible seapower with industrial potential brought the islands and the continents under the influence, I almost said under the spell, of England born and it was the Englishman who carried with him to the Rockies or the North-west Frontier, to the Australian deserts or the African lakes, “the thoughts of England given”, who seemed to himself and to a great part of his countrymen at home to be the typical Englishman with the truest perspective of England.

That phase is ended, so plainly ended that even the generation born at its zenith, for whom the realisation is hardest, no longer deceive themselves, as to rue the fact. That power and that glory have vanished, as surely, if not tracelessly, as the Imperial fleet from wha waters of the spit-head; in the eye of history, no doubt as inevitably as “Nineveh and Tyre”, as Rome and Spain. Yet England is not as Nineveh and Tyre, nor as Rom, nor as Spain. Herodotus relates how Athenians, returning to their city after it had been sacked and burnt by Xerxes and the Persian army, were astonished to find alive and flourishing in the midst of the backend ruins, the sacred olive tree, the native symbol of their country. So we today at the heart of the vanished Empire, amid the fragments of demolished glory, seem to find like one of her own oak trees, standing and growing, the sap still rising from her ancient roots to meet the spring, England herself. Perhaps after all we know most of England “who only England know.” There was this deep, this providential difference between our Empire and those others, that of nationhood of the mother country remained through it all unaffected, almost unconscious of the strange fantastic structure built around her, — in modern parlance, “uninvolved” The citizenship of Rome dissolved into the citizenship of the ancient world; Spain learnt to live on the treasure of the Americas the Hapsburgs and the Hohenzollerns extended their policy with their power, But England, which took as an axiom that the American Colonies could not be represented in Parliament and had to confess that even Ireland was not to be assimilated, underwent no organic change as the mistress of a World Empire, so the continuity of her existence was unbroken when the looser connections which had linked her with distant continents and strange races fell away.

Thus our generation is like one which comes home again from years of distant wandering. We discover the affinities with earlier generations of English, generations before the “expansion of England”, who felt no country but this to be their own. We look upon the traces which they left with a new curiosity, the curiosity of finding ourselves once more akin with the old English. Backward goes our gaze, beyond the grenadiers and the philosophers of the eighteenth century, beyond the pikemen and the preachers of the seventeenth, back through the brash adventurous days of the first Elizabeth and the hard materialism of the Tudors, and there we find them at last, or seem to find them, in many a Village church, beneath the tall tracing of a perpendicular East window and the coffered ceiling of the chantry chapel. From the brass and stone, from the line and effigy, their eyes looks out at us, and we gaze into them, as if we could win some answer from their inscrutable silence. “Tell us what it is that binds us together”; show us the clue that leads through the thousands years; whisper to us the secret of this charmed life of England, that we in our time may know how to hold it fast.” What would they say? They would speak to us in our own English tongue, the tongue made for telling the truth in, tuned already to songs that haunt the hearer like the sadness of spring. They would tell us of that marvellous land, so sweetly mixes of opposites in climate that all the seasons of the year appear there in their greatest perfection; of the fields amid which they built their halls, their cottages, their churches, and where the same blackthorn showered its petals upon them as upon us; they would tell us, surely, of the rivers, the hills, and of the island costs of England. They would tell us too of a palaces near the great city which the Romans build at a ford of the River Thames, a palace with many chambers and one lofty hall, with angel faces carved on the hammer frames, to which men resorted out of all England to speak on behalf of their fellows, a thing called “Parliament”, and from that hall went out men with fur trimmed gowns and strange caps on their heads, to judge the same judgements, and dispense the same justice, to all the people of England. One thing above all they assuredly would not forget, Lancastrian or Yorkist, squire or lord, priest of layman they would point to the kingship of England, and its emblems everywhere visible, the immemorial arms, gules, three leopards or, though quartered of late with France, azure, three fleurs de list argent and older still, the crown itself, and the scepterd awe, in which Saint Edward the Englishman still seemed to sit in his own chair to claim the allegiance of all the English. Symbol, yet source of power; prison of flesh and blood, yet incarnation of the idea; the kingship would have seemed to them, as it seems to us, to embrace and express the qualities that are peculiarly England’s.

The unity of England, effortless and unconstrained, which accepts the unlimited supremacy of Crown in Parliament so naturally as not to be aware of it, the homogeneity so profound and embraced that the counties and the regions make it a hobby to discover their differences and assert their peculiarities. The continuity of England, which has brought this unity and this work gently about, in the unbroken light of the English nation over a thousand years and more is a phenomenon unique in history, the product of a specific set of circumstances like those which in biology are supposed to start by change a new line of evolution. Institutions which elsewhere are recents and artificial creations appear in England almost as works of nature, spontaneous and unquestioned. The deepest instinct of the Englishman — how the word “instinct” keeps forcing itself again and again! — Is for continuity; he never acts more freely, nor innovate more boldly than when he most is conscious of conserving of even reacting. For this continuous life of a united people in its island home spring, as from the soil of England, all that is peculiar in the gifts and the achievements of the English nation, its laws, its literate, its freedom, its self-discipline. All its impact on the outer world, in earlier colonies, in later pac Britannica, in government and lawgiving, in commerce and in thought, has glowered from impulses generated here. And this continuous and continuing life of England is symbolised and expressed, as by nothing else, by the English kingship. English it is , for all the leeks and thistles and shamrocks, the Stuarts and Hanoverians, for all the titles grafted upon it here and elsewhere, ‘her other realms and territories’, Headships of Commonwealths, and what not. The stock that received all these grafts is English, the sap that rises through it to the extremities rises from roots in English earth, the earth of England’s history.

We ought well to guard, as highly to honour, the parent stem of England, and its royal talismans for we know not what branches yet that wonderful tree will have the power to put forth. The enemy is not always violence and force: them we have withstood before and can again. The peril can also be indifference and humbug, which might squander the accumulated wealth of tradition and devalue our sacred symbolism to achieve some cheap compromise or some evanescent purpose. These are not thoughts or every day, nor words for every company; but on St. George’s even, in the Society of St. George, may we not fitly think and speak them, to renew and strengthen in our selves the resolves and the loyalties which English reserve keeps otherwise and best in silence.