When Queen Anne died without any heirs, the English throne was offered to her nearest Protestant relative, George of Hanover, who thus became George I of England. Throughout the long reign of George,his son, and grandson, all named George, the very nature of English society and the political face of the realm changed. In part this was because the first two Georges took little interest in the politics of rule, and were quite content to let ministers rule on their behalf. These ministers, representatives of the king, or Prime Ministers, rather enjoyed ruling, and throughout this “Georgian period” the foundations of English political party system was solidified into something resembling what we have today. But more than politics changed; English society underwent a revolution in art and architecture. This was the age of the grand counry house, when many of the great stately homes that we can visit today were built. Abroad, the English acquired more and more territory overseas through conquest and settlement, lands that would eventually make up an Empire stretching to every corner of the globe.
Georgian Britain – from ‘A History of the British Nation’ (1912) – includes events on the continent and overseas colonies
George I (1714-27) was magnificently unsuited to rule England. He spoke not a word of English, and his slow, pedantic nature did not sit well with the English. One of the results of George’s inability or disinterest in ruling the English was that he handed over his authority to trusted politicians. This marked the origin of the office of the Prime Minister and the cabinet system of government.
The South Sea Bubble
The Duke of Marlborough’s successes in the War of the Spanish Succession had been gained on credit, without monies granted, and the government was badly in debt. The South Sea Company was created to absorb the debt. It was little more than a paper company, founded through bribery of government officials and royals. The idea was that the whole of the £31 million national debt could be converted into company stock. Speculation went sky high and the stock became grossly inflated. Inevitably, the stock crashed, bringing down the government and bankrupting investors.
After the “South Sea Bubble” burst, finances were put firmly in the hands of the Bank of England, with the result that the English economy became the best managed in Europe over the next several centuries.
George II (1727-60) continued the Hanoverian rule. Early in his reign (1736) John Wesley began preaching in England. The subsequent Wesleyan societies and later Methodist churches acted as a conservative deterrent to the tide of social unrest and political radicalism that swept much of Europe during the 18th century.
Success in India
Overseas, the East India Company had established trading posts at Calcutta and Madras. From there they fought with the French for trade supremacy in India. Under Robert Clive (“Clive of India”), the English defeated a combined Indian and French force at Plassey in 1757, and the subcontinent was open to a monopoly by the East India Company.
George III and the Regency
Unlike his grandfather, George III (1760-1820) could at least speak the language of the country he ruled, but he was troubled by periods of insanity that rendered him unfit to rule. Several times Parliament considered putting his son (imaginatively named George also) on the throne, only to have the king recover his faculties before the deed was done.
George III’s reign saw the loss of the American colonies in the American Revolution (1775-83). Closer to home the Gordon Riots of 1780 began as a protest against the spectre of Catholic emancipation and ended with London in the hands of an uncontrollable mob for three days of rioting and violence.
In 1799 the United Irishmen rebelled on behalf of Irish autonomy, but they were defeated at Vinegar Hill. Two years later Ireland was officially unified with Great Britain to form the United Kingdom. In the meantime the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815) with France occupied centre stage. Fighting was sporadic, punctuated by English naval victories at the Battle of the Nile (1798) and Trafalgar (1805), where England’s one-armed naval commander, Horatio Nelson, died in action. On land the armies under the control of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, gradually pushed Napoleon out of the Iberian peninsula and brought him to bay at Waterloo, near Brussels, Belgium.
It finally became clear that George III was no longer fit to rule, and his son was established as Prince Regent (1810-20). “Prinnie”, as he was called by his intimates, was an impulsive, Bacchanalian character, given to extravagance and excess.
However, some of his excesses have become national treasures, such as theBrighton Pavilion, a ludicrously appealing taste of the Far East on the Channel coast. On a personal level the Prince Regent had several mistresses, one of whom, Mrs.Fitzherbert, he is alleged to have secretly married. An underground passage links the Brighton Pavilion with her house close by.
When the Prince Regent finally became king (1820-30), he was at the centre of a public relations fiasco when he tried to prevent his estranged wife, Caroline, from attending the Coronation. Then came a messy and unsuccessful divorce trial, where Caroline came out much the better in popular opinion than the king.
The reign of George’s brother, William IV (1830-37), was followed by that of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). Only 18 when she came to the throne, Victoria oversaw England at the height of its overseas power. The British Empire was established in her reign, and it reached its greatest expanse under her.
Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) was the son of a schoolmaster at Rugby. Brooke was considered extraordinarily handsome as well as clever and he became darling of The Bloomsbury Group, the literary circle that formed around Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, and Virginia Woolf. After studying at Cambridge University he settled in the nearby village of Granchester and his former home, the Old Vicarage, was later purchased by the popular novelist Lord Jeffrey Archer.
Brooke suffered a nervous breakdown in 1913 and travelled first to the United States and then on to Tahiti in order to recuperate. He volunteered for the Royal Navy in 1914 and took part in the expedition to Antwerp that year, which ended in failure. Early in 1915 he sailed for the Dardanelles, where the British intended a landing to advance on Constantinople, but died during the passage from a mosquito bite on the lip. He was buried in an olive grove on Skyros.
One of the most anthologised poems in the language is Rupert Brooke’s ‘The Soldier’: Romantic, dreamy, patriotic: even the air has nationality. It’s a poem about falling asleep and waking up dead and not feeling a thing except happy. Falling, yes, that word is deliberate – falling and rising. It celebrates memorial resurrection and the suspension of time.
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness.
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
Brooke was a Greek scholar at Cambridge and the central thought turns on the idea of cosmic memory ( mnemosyne) in which he will be ‘a pulse in the eternal mind’ reverberating still to an English tempo.
This poem may be classed among the literature of martyrology, though it’s not a religious poem. It plays on the poetic turn of mind that dreams of being taken up in rapture for the sake of the cause or the faith – this earth, this realm, this England invested with divinity, half in love with easeful death.
The Soldier is a sonnet in which Brooke glorifies England during the First World War. He speaks in the guise of an English soldier as he is leaving home to go to war. The poem represents the patriotic ideals that characterized pre-war England. It portrays death for one’s country as a noble end and England as the noblest country for which to die.
In the first stanza (the octave of the sonnet) stanza, he talks about how his grave will be England herself, and what it should remind the listeners of England when they see the grave. In the second stanza, the sestet, he talks about this death (sacrifice for England) as redemption; he will become “a pulse in the eternal mind”. He concludes that only life will be the appropriate thing to give to his great motherland in return for all the beautiful and the great things she has given to him, and made him what he is. The soldier-speaker of the poem seeks to find redemption through sacrifice in the name of the country.
The speaker begins by addressing the reader, and speaking to them in the imperative: “think only this of me.” This sense of immediacy establishes the speaker’s romantic attitude towards death in duty. He suggests that the reader should not mourn. Whichever “corner of a foreign field” becomes his grave; it will also become “forever England”. He will have left a monument of England in a forever England”. He will have left a monument in England in a foreign land, figuratively transforming a foreign soil to England. The suggestion that English “dust” must be “richer” represents a real attitude that the people of the Victorian age actually had.
The speaker implies that England is mother to him. His love for England and his willingness to sacrifice is equivalent to a son’s love for his mother; but more than an ordinary son, he can give his life to her. The imagery in the poem is typically Georgina. The Georgian poets were known for their frequent mediations in the English countryside. England’s “flowers”, “her ways to roam”, and “English air” all represent the attitude and pride of the youth of the pre-industrial England; many readers would excuse the jingoistic them of this poem if they remember that this soldier’s bravery and sense of sacrifice is far better than the modern soldier and warfare in which there is nothing grand about killing people with automated machine guns! The soldier also has a sense of beauty of his country that is in fact a part of his identity. In the final line of the first stanza, nature takes on a religious significance for the speaker. He is “washed by the rivers”, suggesting the purification of baptism, and “blest by the sun of home.” In the second stanza, the sestet, the physical is left behind in favor of the spiritual. If the first stanza is about the soldier’s thought of this world and England, the second is about his thoughts of heaven and England (in fact, and English heaven).
In the sestet, the soldier goes on to tell the listener what to think of him if he dies at war, but he presents a more imaginative picture of himself. He forgets the grave in the foreign country where he might die, and he begins to talk about how he will have transformed into an eternal spirit. This means that to die for England is the surest way to get a salvation: as implied in the last line, he even thinks that he will become a part of an English heaven. The heart will be transformed by death. All earthly “evil” will be shed away. Once the speaker has died, his soul will give back to England everything England has given to him- in other words, everything that the speaker has become. In the octave, the speaker describes his future grave in some far off land as a part of England; and in the sestet England takes on the role of a heavenly creator, a part of the “eternal mind” of God. In this way, dying for England gains the status of religious salvation, wherever he dies. Wherever he dies, his death for England will be a salvation of his soul. It is therefore the most desirable of all fates.
The images and praises of England run through both the stanzas. In the first stanza Brooke describes the soldier’s grave in a foreign land as a part of England; in the second, that actual English images abound. The sights, sounds, dreams, laughter, friends, and gentleness that England offered him during his life till this time are more than enough for him to thank England and satisfactorily go and die for her. The poet elaborates on what England has granted in the second stanza; ‘sights and sounds’ and all of his “dreams.” A “happy” England filled his life with “laughter” and “friends”, and England characterized by “peace” and “gentleness”. It is what makes English dust “richer” and what in the end guarantees “hearts at peace, under an English Heaven.”
In terms of the structure of ideas, the octave presents reflection; the sestet evaluates the reflection. The first eight lines (octave) is a reflection on the physical: the idea of the soldier’s “dust” buries in a “foreign field.” They urge the readers not to mourn this death, though they implicitly also create a sense of loss. The last six lines (sestet), however, promise redemption: “a pulse in the eternal mind…. under an English heaven”. The rhyme scheme is that of the Shakespearean sonnet: the octave and the sestet consist of three quatrains, rhyming abab cdcd efef and a final rhymed couplet gg.
- YOSEPH SUBAN BELEN