Thursday, 19 September 2013

Living on our past ...

Sometimes one stumbles across something prescient when looking for something else. I am often astonished at some of the things I find when researching history and today turned up a gem. It was written when the British Empire was at its height, and perhaps the denizens of Westminster and Whitehall need to have their noses rubbed in it. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle penned the following poem after HMS Foudroyant was wrecked at Blackpool in 1897. She had served as Admiral Nelson's flagship at the Battle of the Nile, then in various roles until she was sold to become a 'school ship' in the 1860s. What incensed Conan Doyle (among others) was that the wreck was stripped of her fittings, the copper from her bottom being turned into medallions to be given to school children a few years later, and the hulk sold to a German salvage company for two hundred pounds.

The interesting thing is his tirade against those who can only see a monetary value in everything to do with Britain's heritage. That is a problem that is still with us, we seem to be in the hands of a political class who are prepared to sell the very pavement from beneath our feet if it serves their purpose to do so. Read Sir Arthur's tirade and weep -

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Who says the Nation's purse is lean,
Who fears for claim or bond or debt,
When all the glories that have been
Are scheduled as a cash asset?
If times are bleak and trade is slack,
If coal and cotton fail at last,
We've something left to barter yet
Our glorious past.

There's many a crypt in which lies hid
The dust of statesman or of king;
There's Shakespeare's home to raise a bid,
And Milton's house its price would bring.
What for the sword that Cromwell drew?
What for Prince Edward's coat of mail?
What for our Saxon Alfred's tomb?
They're all for sale!

And stone and marble may be sold
Which serve no present daily need;
There's Edward's Windsor, labelled old,
And Wolsey's palace, guaranteed.
St. Clement Danes and fifty fanes,
The Tower and the Temple grounds;
How much for these? Just price them, please,
In British pounds.

You hucksters, have you still to learn,
The things which money will not buy?
Can you not read that, cold and stern
As we may be, there still does lie
Deep in our hearts a hungry love
For what concerns our island story?
We sell our work perchance our lives,
But not our glory.

Go barter to the knacker's yard
The steed that has outlived its time!
Send hungry to the pauper ward
The man who served you in his prime!
But when you touch the Nation's store,
Be broad your mind and tight your grip.
Take heed! And bring us back once more
Our Nelson's ship.

And if no mooring can be found
In all our harbours near or far,
Then tow the old three-decker round
To where the deep-sea soundings are;
There, with her pennon flying clear,
And with her ensign lashed peak high,
Sink her a thousand fathoms sheer.
There let her lie!

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