Today is St George's Day so, along with various other English bloggers, I propose to mark this day with a post about England and its patron saint - St. George.
No one really seems to know why English crusader knights and thereafter the kings of England adopted St George as their patron saint except that he was a cavalry officer in the Roman army and therefore presumably was considered somewhat of a role model. However St George was not just popular amongst the English as this history details and indeed the tale of St George and the Dragon seems to be popular everywhere. For example, as a globe-trotting executive, or some facsimile thereof, I was in Zurich yesterday evening and, during a stroll around the citiy of the gnomes, I saw a building with a bas relief of St George spearing his dragon and there is an amusing SF tale by Gordon Dickson called St Dragon and the George where it is all backwards.
However obscure the initial connection of St George with England, these days the two are inextricably linked and therefore today seems like a good day to talk about England too. Just after the first world war - 85 years ago today if you want to be exact - Rudyard Kipling wrote about England and the English. On balance I would say that this is not one of Kiplings better works, nor even his best evocation of his view of England, which I believe is best absorbed heuristically by reading the entire oeuvre, however it has good points which hold true today. The main one being that, as many others have claimed, the English are a "Mongrel Race". This is I think perhaps the biggest differentiator between England and most other nations or ethnic groups in the old world, from Koreans or Japanese in the Eastern extremes of Asia to the Basques in the west, and it is one that I believe still applies today. Despite the rumblings of various people that the latest group of immigrants (Bangladeshis, Pakistanis or whoever) are not integrating, I think that in actual fact they most certainly are starting the process, and I believe that over time the rest will. After all the English language has already plundered their native tongues for useful words - most of which it has then either misapplied or mispronounced to such an extent that the native doesn't realize the origin - and many of them or their children now speak English with an accent that is identical to those whose ancestors have been here for generations. To my mind the radical islamists who threaten their neighbours are in fact a sign of desperation and the greater reality is shown in movies such as "Bend it like Beckham" or the book "Salaam Brick Lane" by Tarquin Hall from which I extracted a great quote last week:
“I didn’t get nowhere by sitting around watching satellite TV. I’ve worked ’ard every day of my life. I tell my kids, no one never got nowhere by being lazy. Don’t take my word for it, I tell them. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon ’im, yeah, ’e said, ‘Be a worker; don’t sit around on your arse, innit’.”
In some ways this is a good reason to have St George as patron saint. St George was a Darian from Cappadocia in Asia Minor and followed a religion from Palestine, yet he was in the service of an Empire originally from Italy, with a de facto langauge of Greek and an Emperor from the Balkans. Compare that to London where a Russian Jew thinks nothing of working for a Hugenot firm in a land whose royal family was originally French but more recently German and will cheerfully go out to eat a curry served by waiters from Bangladesh with friends whose parents were Nigerian. And that just covers the immigrants of the last centruy or so. St George would fit right in.