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The Absent Minded Conquerors : Sir John Seeley urged us to cherish our close ties to India and other nations beyond Europe.
The Absent Minded Conquerors

From ‘The Expansion of England’ (1922) by Sir John Seeley (1834-1895).

Victorian essayist and historian Sir John Seeley urged his readers to think more about our ties of language, blood, culture and history with the countries of our loose and far-flung Empire, and less about ‘little England’ and her mere geographical proximity to Continental Europe.

WE seem to have conquered and peopled half the world in a fit of absence of mind.* While we were doing it, we did not allow it to affect our imaginations or in any degree to change our ways of thinking; nor have we even now ceased to think of ourselves as simply a race inhabiting an island off the northern coast of the Continent of Europe. If we are asked what the English population is, it does not occur to us to reckon-in the population of Canada and Australia.*

This fixed way of thinking has influenced our historians. It causes them, I think, to miss the true point of view in describing the eighteenth century. They do not perceive that in that century the history of England is not in England but in America and Asia. When we look at the present state of affairs, and still more at the future, we ought to beware of putting England alone in the foreground and suffering what we call the English possessions to escape our view in the background of the picture.

* See also George Santayana’s view of The Englishman: “Instinctively the Englishman is no missionary, no conqueror... Never since the heroic days of Greece has the world had such a sweet, just, boyish master.”

* The population of the British Empire in 1900 was approximately 440 million. The United Kingdom (which still included what is now the Republic of Ireland) was about 40m, Australia 3.7m and Canada 5.3m. India stood at around 330m. Source: Wikipedia.

From ‘The Expansion of England’ (1922) by Sir John Seeley (1834-1895).

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