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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Wednesday, April 23, 2008
    England is Rich
     
    To mark England's national day, an extract from Harry Hopkins' delightful 1957 travelogue, England is Rich. He was following Defoe whose three volume travel book, Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain was published between 1724 and 1727, and whose travels caused him to exclaim,
    In travelling thro' England, a luxuriance of objects presents it self to our view: Where-ever we come, and which way soever we look, we see something new, something significant, something well worth the travellers stay, and the writer's care.
    The countries which Hopkins celebrated - and Defoe before him - were Englands in flux, and both writers embraced the changes they saw...

    A F T E R W O R D

    England is Rich

    "The fate of things gives a new face to things ... "

    Defoe travelled an island poised on the edge of Empire. I travelled an England hardly less stirringly in transition, an England leaving behind the Age of Steam which it had made its own and moving forward boldly into the new Age of Atomic Power. Defoe's England, under the drive of her new race of merchant-adventurers, was expanding across the oceans; ours, emerging from the cyclotrons and synchrotrons of the nuclear scientists and the test-tubes of the chemists, seems at times to be expanding beyond the confines of the material world. For the inhabitants of both Englands, Defoe's and our own, the change of scale is immense-but whereas Defoe's True-born Englishman could still advance masterfully across the enlarging scene, in this twentieth-century England of chemists' miracles, electronics, atomic power, and vast industrial organizations the ordinary man may well feel hopelessly dwarfed and out of his depth. When the Black Country smiths who hammered out their world red-hot upon their anvils exchange their sweat-rags for overalls and move over to the conveyor belts of Birmingham, much more than merely a change of techniques is at stake. Can the tenders of robots escape becoming robots themselves? Will the England of "automation" be an England we can recognize?
    It's a rhetorical question because Hopkins, heartened by the ability of the English to constantly reinvent ourselves, went on to say that 'Travel in England is, on the whole, reassuring. The tree grows, as always, from its roots - and its roots are vigorous and strike deep.' I like to think of the present-day English people's quiet, tenuous reclamation of a national day of celebration as one sign of that tree's gentle growth, and I suspect that those who might emulate Hopkins fifty years on could also come to the same conclusion:
    ...having travelled the land, and made so small inventory of some of its riches, he need display hardly less cause for confidence in its future.