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The Englishman : George Santayana had the chance to observe our national character at the height of Empire.
The Englishman

From ‘Soliloquies in England’ (1922) by George Santayana (1863-1952).

Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana spent the Great War (1914-1918) in England, which gave him a chance to see the average Englishman at the height of Empire, and in the midst of crisis. His affectionate but teasing sketch taken from life does not resemble in the least degree the portrait so often painted today.

INSTINCTIVELY the Englishman is no missionary, no conqueror. He prefers the country to the town, and home to foreign parts. He is rather glad and relieved if only natives will remain natives and strangers strangers, and at a comfortable distance from himself. Yet outwardly he is most hospitable and accepts almost anybody for the time being; he travels and conquers without a settled design, because he has the instinct of exploration.

His adventures are all external; they change him so little that he is not afraid of them. He carries his English weather in his heart wherever he goes,* and it becomes a cool spot in the desert, and a steady and sane oracle amongst all the deliriums of mankind. Never since the heroic days of Greece has the world had such a sweet, just, boyish master. It will be a black day for the human race when scientific blackguards, conspirators, churls, and fanatics manage to supplant him.*

* Santayana had written a little earlier: “What governs the Englishman is his inner atmosphere, the weather in his soul... never is it a precise reason, or purpose, or outer fact that determines him; it is always the atmosphere of his inner man.”

* For a full biography of the author, see George Santayana at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

From ‘Soliloquies in England’ (1922) by George Santayana (1863-1952).

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Picture: From the Imerial War Museums, via Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Public domain. View original
Captain SC Winfield-Smith of the Royal Flying Corps, in the cockpit of his plane on May 9th, 1914, shortly before the outbreak of the Great War. Santayana saw in the English a certain insensitivity and an infuriating stupidity, but neither racial prejudice or a lust for control – unlike the German Empire that precipitated the calamitous war of 1914-1918, and against which the Winfield-Smiths of this nation fought so courageously. “England” wrote Santayana “is the paradise of individuality, eccentricity, heresy, anomalies, hobbies, and humours.”
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