English Language and History
in music, word games and two-minute tales
‘ENGLISH Language and History’ is a
collection of two-minute tales drawn from British history, world history, and
classic literature in English. The stories are accompanied by word games and
mental agility puzzles based on school textbooks used across England from the
1930s to the 1960s.
This is not a history of Britain. There is no attempt to meet any syllabus,
or provide comprehensive coverage of any period or subject: topics range from
the Wars of the Roses to railways and stories about cats. Indeed, many
of the stories are not directly about Britain at all.
The purpose of the website is to give the reader a sense of what is
best in British history and traditional culture, and of how that best
is shared by many peoples and cultures of the world — sometimes because
we have taught it to them, sometimes because we have learnt it from them,
and sometimes because it is simply a reflection of the good that is in
all mankind, of the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the
Consequently, the stories told here look beyond the usual sorry catalogue
of bloody battles, court intrigues and abuses of power; here, the heroes and
heroines are inventors and engineers, merchants and adventurers, musicians and
story-tellers, saints and campaigners for liberty — all those who seek to
spread civilisation and prosperity without resorting to Power.
Where possible, there is a fairly strict maximum of 165 words, though many
stories are told in two parts; an audio version of the text is also available,
aimed primarily at those learning English as a foreign language. The puzzles
are designed to encourage creativity and individuality, and in many cases they
have no one ‘right answer’.
On Good English
N. L. Clay
IF ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ are to be more than catchwords, clear
communication must be the rule, and not the exception. In a totalitarian
state it may be sufficient for the dictator and his henchmen to be able
to use straightforward language. Do we want a society in which placid
masses take their orders from bosses?
The alternative to government by force is government by persuasion.
The latter must mean that the governed can talk back to the governors.
From ‘Straightforward English’ (1949), by
schoolmaster N. L. Clay
See Straightforward English
On Tales and Imagination
FORBEARANCE, courtesy, consideration for poor and aged, kind treatment
of animals, love of nature, abhorrence of tyranny and brute force - many
such good things have been first nourished in the child's heart by this
Every one who has considered the subject knows full well that a nation
without fancy, without some romance, never did, never can, never will, hold
a great place under the sun.
On fairy-tales. From ‘Frauds on the Fairies’,
by novelist Charles Dickens
See Presumption and Innocence
On British Culture
WE have also taken the Roman ideal of just administration, the Greek ideal
of democracy and freedom of art, and the French tradition of the family unit,
along with the Norse courage and loyalty and the Christian faith.
Like all people, we have
made some mistakes and have committed some crimes during our history, but we can say that
we have built something worthy of our defence.
From a radio broadcast ‘New Order in Europe’,
23/24 December 1940, by actor Leslie Howard
See Britain’s Destiny
St Bede of Jarrow
I WARMLY welcome the genuine eagerness with which you
make the effort to acquaint yourself in detail with the sayings and doings of earlier
generations, and particularly the famous men of our own nation.
For if history relates good things about good men, the attentive listener is stirred to
imitate what is good; whereas if it records the evil done by wicked men, the listener
will himself be all aflame to pursue, more skilfully than before, those things which
he knows are good and worthy in God’s eyes.
Abridged from Bede’s ‘History of the English Church and People’,
completed in 731 and dedicated to King Ceolwulf of Northumbria.
See The Lessons of History
On Freedom and Responsibility
MEN are qualified for civil liberty in exact
proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites.
Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed
somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.
It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate
minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
A Letter to a Member of the French Assembly (1791).
See There is no Liberty without Self-Control