“Many clever men like you have trusted to civilization. Many clever Babylonians, many clever Egyptians, many clever men at the end of Rome. Can you tell me, in a world that is flagrant with the failures of civilisation, what there is particularly immortal about yours?”—G.K. Chesterton in Napoleon of Notting Hill (via gkchestertonquote)
Excerpt from Benjamin Bagby’s performance of Beowulf
Him ða Scyld gewat to gescæphwile felahror feran on frean wære. Hi hyne þa ætbæron to brimes faroðe, swæse gesiþas, swa he selfa bæd,
þenden wordum weold wine Scyldinga; leof landfruma lange ahte. þær æt hyðe stod hringedstefna, isig ond utfus, æþelinges fær. Aledon þa leofne þeoden,
beaga bryttan, on bearm scipes, mærne be mæste. þær wæs madma fela of feorwegum, frætwa, gelæded; ne hyrde ic cymlicor ceol gegyrwan hildewæpnum ond heaðowædum,
billum ond byrnum; him on bearme læg madma mænigo, þa him mid scoldon on flodes æht feor gewitan. Nalæs hi hine læssan lacum teodan, þeodgestreonum, þon þa dydon
þe hine æt frumsceafte forð onsendon ænne ofer yðe umborwesende. þa gyt hie him asetton segen geldenne heah ofer heafod, leton holm beran, geafon on garsecg; him wæs geomor sefa,
murnende mod. Men ne cunnon secgan to soðe, selerædende, hæleð under heofenum, hwa þæm hlæste onfeng.
Forth he fared at the fated moment, sturdy Scyld to the shelter of God. Then they bore him over to ocean’s billow, loving clansmen, as late he charged them, while wielded words the winsome Scyld, the leader beloved who long had ruled…. In the roadstead rocked a ring-dight vessel, ice-flecked, outbound, atheling’s barge: there laid they down their darling lord on the breast of the boat, the breaker-of-rings, by the mast the mighty one. Many a treasure fetched from far was freighted with him. No ship have I known so nobly dight with weapons of war and weeds of battle, with breastplate and blade: on his bosom lay a heaped hoard that hence should go far o’er the flood with him floating away. No less these loaded the lordly gifts, thanes’ huge treasure, than those had done who in former time forth had sent him sole on the seas, a suckling child. High o’er his head they hoist the standard, a gold-wove banner; let billows take him, gave him to ocean. Grave were their spirits, mournful their mood. No man is able to say in sooth, no son of the halls, no hero ‘neath heaven, — who harbored that freight!
There is no sentiment in a nation so dangerous, there is no sentiment so easy to stimulate, as the false excess of patriotism. There is probably no country in the world from China to Peru in which the sub-conscious voices of national egotism do not persistently whisper in men’s ears the same intoxicating tale: ’ “We are the pick and flower of nations, and (in one sense or another) the chosen people of God! Various foreigners may or may not have their good points, but only we are really whole and right and normal. Other nations boast and are aggressive; only we are modest and content with our barest due, though it is obvious that we are by nature specially qualified for ruling others, and no unprejudiced person can doubt that our present territories ought to be increased. That our yoke is a pure blessing to all who come under it is a plain fact, proved by the almost unanimous testimony of our own citizens, our historians, our missionaries, our soldiers, our travellers, and only denied out of spite by a few envious foreigners, whom no one believes!”’
Sentiments like these call them patriotism, Jingoism, Chauvinism, or what you will form a strong and persistent force, valuable when checked, dangerous when stimulated, and charged with all the elements of exasperation and explosion whenever there is most need for patience and for care.
There is also in most civilized countries another party, inspired, consciously or unconsciously, by the older school of English Liberals, who do not accept the extravagant pretensions of their own countrymen; who judge of national honour by more or less the same standards as they apply to private honour; who believe in international morality and in the co-operation of nations for mutual help ; who, if they are to dream at all, will dream not of Armageddons and Empires, but of progress and freedom, and the ultimate fraternity of mankind.
Francis Wrigley Hirst, from the Introduction to “Liberalism and the Empire”, 1900.