chapter  8
12 Pages

The Metaphysics of Anglicism

About five years ago I wrote a letter to The Times about George Orwell and suggested that he would not have developed a sense of anxiety at being an outsider at Eton if his family had belonged to the Indian Civil Service, the ruling caste of India, even if he was less well-off than other Etonians. But people refused to believe that anyone but the ruling elites of the British Empire ever entered Eton. It is such charming fictions that make up the English selfimage: an image which they share with a lot of foreigners, who may or may not have lived in England. It does take a long time to know the English; although one of the first things that does filter through is that an extreme adaptability of action goes with an unchanging faith in the self image. I refer to the English, not the ‘British’, for I know only the English. Many of the English I have met seem to have a trace of Irish in their ancestry or are anglicised Scots. It has been difficult to determine if there is an Englishman who is, logically, English: perhaps a Welshman. Yet, such is the strength of Anglicism in a general cultural sense that it seems to take over other kinds of consciousness-not identity-in subtle and persisting ways. One loses one’s passionate sense of success or failure, to become stoical in a quiet sort of way. The English word for this is, of course, ‘civilised’. When one is talking about the English one is really talking about their elite: the masses of England are many different peoples, from the romantic, piratical Cornishmen to the coal-dusted heirs of the ancient Kingdom of Northumbria, absorbed into a peculiar mixture of political and emotional unity.