gershon hepner (5 3 38 / leipzig)
acient dower, modern heritage
What Wordsworth terms “our ancient Dower, ”
describing heritage of Britain,
has faded like the fresher flower
of the USA. Unwritten
the rules that governed both these places
when people, poor no less than rich,
felt unity to be the basis
of an inherent heritage
which Britons claimed as ancient, and
Americans claimed as brand new.
Wordsworth surely now would wonder
what happened to his ancient Dower?
What was the cause that made Brits blunder,
and lose their dower’s primal power?
Americans should wonder too
why their new heritage now seems
to vanish. There are very few
who still appreciate the dreams
of founders of their nations who
created for them both the dowers
that vanish rapidly from view,
about to topple like twin towers.
Inspired by an article in the WSJ, January 15,2010 (“When Britain Ceased to Be British: A remarkable era that began with food rationing and Churchill has ended with junk food and Gordon Brown”) , reviewing A. N. Wilson’s “Our Times”:
Mr. Wilson does not fit easily into any political or social category. The erstwhile schoolboy Maoist-Marxist morphed into a leading 'young fogey' of the Thatcher era; today he remains basically conservative in his sympathies. But he is the very model of a modern progressive Tory, applauding the freedom achieved for British gays and for women to procure contraception and legal abortions. Praising the welfare state's improvement of the nation's standard of living and physical well-being, Mr. Wilson notes that, in 1952, 'a quarter of British homes had inadequate sanitary arrangements, outdoor lavatories, and bathrooms shared with neighbours. Over half the adult population over the age of thirty had no teeth.' Given the improvements, since Elizabeth's reign began, 'in living standards, and the enormous increase in national prosperity, and in sexual liberty, it would be perverse not to rejoice.' But even as he lauds these developments, Mr. Wilson cannot help deploring the demise of the country he was born into: 'It would be a bold person who stood up and said that the reign of Elizabeth had been Britain's most glorious period. For the reign of Elizabeth is the one in which Britain effectively stopped being British.' Part of this is nostalgia and a natural conservatism born of the instinct for preserving what even the young, revolutionary William Wordsworth termed 'our ancient English dower.' But it is also a recognition that Britain's engagement in the European Union and the global world of the late 20th and early 21st century—to say nothing of the huge immigration to the country's shores—has turned its society into a much less identifiably British one. As Mr. Wilson observes, the one fixed point since the middle of the past century has been Britain's monarch: 'Already the reign of Elizabeth II has encompassed so much change and has witnessed so many remarkable achievements that it makes her seem almost like a time traveller, spanning not just six decades, but whole centuries.' It is 'bizarre, ' he says, to realize that the current head of state, in the age of 'American junk food' and Gordon Brown, is the same one whose rule began at a time when food was being rationed and Winston Churchill was prime minister. Mr. Wilson is fearless in his criticism of Elizabeth for not opposing Tony Blair's move to end hereditary rights in the House of Lords and for not resisting the rise of Scottish nationalism. 'The Queen had many virtues but political courage was not one of them.' He even assails her remoteness as a mother. But Mr. Wilson is grateful for her steadfastness across decades of change. 'She was—a word once applied by her daughter-in-law to her butler—a rock.'
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