Wanderings in Anglo-Saxon Britain (book #129)

Arthur Weigall, not dated but the Bodleian catalogue has it as 1927, and the inscription in my copy is also 1927. The book is online.

I’d not heard of Weigall before but he seems to have had a fascinating life: worked with Flinders Petrie, was concerned about the export of archaeological items from Egypt, wanted to support Egyptian involvement in archaeology. Is described as having some sort of breakdown and then becoming a set designer and novelist. I would like to read the biography by his grand-daughter. Would also like to read some of Weigall’s novels.

This book fits well with the books by Jessie Mothersole I’ve been reading. Weigall, who was a journalist, expresses more definite views than Mothersole about what we can or should infer about the British from archaeology. He says in the first chapter,

our school books have so incorrectly spread the belief that the English have no relation to the British, and we have been credited with a purely Germanic ancestry. Actually, however, we are a blend of the two races; and thus while our English ancestry takes us back only 1,500 years or so to the darkness of a rather stormy life in Denmark, Schleswig, and along the neighbouring German coast, our British blood, apart from the “Roman” strain, carries us right back into the four centuries of our connection with Rome, and thence back for at least another 1500 years of more or less civilized life in Britain, and links us at length with the men who built Stonehenge.
As descendants of the British we have at least 3,500 years of civilization in our own land behind us; but though our English history covers less than half that period it, too, presents, even in its early phases, a very creditable tale. The conditions of life in England in early Anglo-Saxon times were at any rate far superior to those in France under the contemporary Merovingians.
Thus, if my purpose is achieved, I shall put forward in these pages a picture of our forefathers’ history which, on the whole, will give us cause for much pride of race …

I love the idea that we should be looking for a creditable tale in archaeology. Here are some more of his thoughts on the British, with more slaps at foreigners:

In spite of wars and tumults, a remarkable and gradually increasing refinement of mind is to be observed in these early [Anglo-Saxon] ancestors of ours, contrasting them very favourably with their contemporaries on the Continent. …

Is it the influence of Britain, rather than that of any one strain in our blood, that has made our race the most orderly, the most magnanimous, and perhaps the most kindly in the world? Is there some quality in the land itself, some unchanging spirit of gentleness brooding over our countryside, which tames all men who come hither, whether they be Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, or Normans, and moulds them into one undying type? What is the nature of this miracle wrought by Britain time after time upon the minds of those various peoples who have come home-hunting to her shores, so that to call a man British is to denote his character? …

the Anglo-Saxons, the English as we now say, became a people different from their Germanic kin, gentler, more magnanimous, more kindly, more idealistic, yet of greater common-sense, more nearly approximating in certain ways to the Celt than to the Teuton …

[The Anglo-Saxons] generally displayed that same tendency towards domestic exclusiveness, privacy, and independence which has remained a national characteristic ever since, and which is now exemplified in the saying that an Englishman’s home is his castle. …

[In Bede] we may fully study the childhood of the English nation, and it may well be a matter of deep satisfaction to us that, thanks to this great old Englishman, our country is far ahead of any other in western Europe in the knowledge of its early history. Through Bede’s labours it may be said that the English race makes its appearance on the world’s stage in both a more vivid and a more reputable manner than does any other western nation; and at a bound, so to speak, we thus take our place in front of all other peoples. …

On the Continent it is proverbially said that “the English are defeated in every battle except the last.” Now this exaggerated but witty saying need cause us no offence, for it means simply that the steadiness of our nerves and our powers of endurance are deemed to be greater than those of other peoples, and that though at first we may receive a terrible gruelling, owing to our national dislike of the attitude of being prepared for war, we may be expected to survive the first shocks and to come out at last on top. …

Weigall is concerned to correct the “Dark Ages” stereotype, writing that “the story of Britain . . . maintains its detailed course through the Anglo-Saxon period, full of interesting and romantic matter, rich in recorded events, and never once falling back into the darkness and vacancy of an unchronicled epoch”.

He ends like this:

the crowds upon it [the road of British history], viewed in the mass, move forward in the same traditional spirit of goodwill, toleration, and compromise which are the historic characteristics of our age-old race. From incalculable distance, augmented by innumerable strains of type and breed, the British people come thronging along this immeasurable way, pressing forward towards the vision of the future, generation succeeding generation, moving from strength to strength, until the Past merges into the Present and we of to-day see ourselves inseparably part of the progression, part of old England, part of Britain that was, and is, and is to be.

Books read since last update

A Fountain Filled With Blood, Julia Spencer-Fleming
Out of the Deep I Cry, Julia Spencer-Fleming
To Darkness and To Death, Julia Spencer-Fleming
Treachery in Death, J D Robb


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