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english language and history .com
Very short stories from history, myth and fiction
with traditional exercises in grammar and composition.

English Language and History

a celebration 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 world.

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

Charles Dickens

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 powerful aid.

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

Leslie Howard

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

On History

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

Edmund Burke

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


Picture: By Peter Trimming, Geograph. Licence: CC-BY-SA 2.0. View original
Yew Tree Farm cottage near Coniston Lake in Cumbria. Beatrix Potter lived here in the 1930s.
New Stories
JB Cramer was one of the finest pianists of his day, though his reverence for Mozart made his own music more popular in the drawing room than the concert hall.
By Percy Bysshe Shelley
Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley says that the pinnacle of political achievement is the government not of others, but of ourselves.
By John Keats
Poet John Keats speaks of the beauties of Autumn, her colours, her sounds and her rich harvest.
By Percy Bysshe Shelley
Poet Percy Shelley calls on November’s sister months to watch by the graveside of the dead Year.
By Fulke Greville, Baron Brooke
Elizabethan courtier and soldier Sir Philip Sidney shows that a nobleman can also be a gentleman.
Based on an account by Saint Bede of Jarrow
One week into a Lenten retreat with the Bishop of Hexham, a boy’s miserable life is turned right around.
A celebration of St Michael, captain of heaven’s angel host, courteous warrior, and healer.
A faithful but unprepossessing pet is turned out of hearth and home.
As Japan’s ruling shoguns resist the tide of progress, a Nagasaki-based Scottish entrepreneur steps in.
By Ethel Smyth
Composer Ethel Smyth buys a new-fangled ladies’ bicycle, and scandalises the neighbours.