Saturday, March 21, 2015

Why civil feuds disturb the nation more

The True-Born Englishman published in 1701 by Daniel Defoe made the argument that a people are not defined by their bloodlines but by their shared culture. Well worth a read in its entirety with lots of great passages. A wise call to good sense from 414 years ago to chide those amongst us who are so enamored of identifying people by race and ethnicity and gender and orientation and religion.

The introduction is in more elegant and structured language than that to which we are accustomed but its meaning is plain:
Speak, Satire, for there's none can tell like thee,
Whether 'tis folly, pride, or knavery,
That makes this discontented land appear
Less happy now in times of peace, than war:
Why civil feuds disturb the nation more,
Than all our bloody wars have done before.

Fools out of favour grudge at knaves in place,
And men are always honest in disgrace:
The court preferments make men knaves in course:
But they which wou'd be in them wou'd be worse.
'Tis not at foreigners that we repine,
Wou'd foreigners their perquisites resign:
The grand contention's plainly to be seen,
To get some men put out, and some put in.
For this our Senators make long harangues.
And florid Ministers whet their polish'd tongues.
Statesmen are always sick of one disease;
And a good pension gives them present ease.
That's the specific makes them all content
With any King and any government.
Good patriots at court abuses rail,
And all the nation's grievances bewail:
But when the sov'reign balsam's once apply'd,
The zealot never fails to change his side;
And when he must the golden key resign,
The railing spirit comes about again.

Who shall this bubbl'd nation disabuse,
While they their own felicities refuse?
Who at the wars have made such mighty pother,
And now are falling out with one another:
With needless fears the jealous nations fill,
And always have been sav'd against their will:
Who fifty millions sterling have disburs'd
To be with peace, and too much plenty, curs'd;
Who their old monarch eagerly undo,
And yet uneasily obey the new.
Search, Satire, search; a deep incision make:
The poison's strong, the antidote's too weak.
'Tis pointed truth must manage this dispute,
And down-right English, Englishmen confute.

Whet thy just anger at the nation's pride;
And with keen phrase repel the vicious tide,
To Englishmen their own beginnings show,
And ask them, why they slight their neighbours so:
Go back to elder times, and ages past,
And nations into long oblivion cast;
To elder Britain's youthful days retire,
And there for true-born Englishmen inquire,
Britannia freely will disown the name,
And hardly knows herself from whence they came;
Wonders that they of all men should pretend
To birth, and blood, and for a name contend.
Go back to causes where our follies dwell,
And fetch the dark original from hell:
Speak, Satire, for there's none like thee can tell.

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