The English - Are They Human?

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John Saunders
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The English - Are They Human?

Postby John Saunders » Sat Aug 08, 2015 6:27 pm

I thought this rather splendid and provocative piece from the April 1955 Wycombiensian deserved a wider audience. It was written by Barri Jones, son of two members of the RGS staff, Emlyn and Phyllis Jones (or "Chunk" and "Ma Chunk" as we knew them rather better). Barri was in the Classical Sixth at the time he wrote it, aged about 19. He went on to become a very eminent archaeologist - Wikipedia entry but sadly died aged only 63 in 1999. He was born in England but, with two Welsh parents and the full name Geraint Dyfed Barri Jones, he could hardly regard himself as anything other than Welsh, could he? I'm half Welsh myself and some of his observations reflect my own feelings about the English...

Barri Jones, The Wycombiensian, April 1955 wrote:THE ENGLISH—ARE THEY HUMAN?
What is this strange stuff that runs in English veins? God alone can tell who mixed the strange pot-pourri of the English race. Arrogant but unassuming, pugnacious but reserved, the Englishman is shy of strangers and frightened by the sound of his own voice. But a fierce fire burns beneath the outer crust and a swirling current flows beneath the ice of his generally expressionless face. Dark or fair, heavy and immobile, or high-strung and quixotic, all of them possess a strange wayward will. A dash of the ferocious Briton, the “hwyl” of the crazy Celt, a tinge of the iron Roman, a drop of the fiery Saxon, a dash of the haughty Norman—all these elements, even when they are blended to the point of neutrality, give birth to “something rich and strange!”

Crazy, demented Englishman! Methodical in the madness of his eccentricity; greeting his best friends with but a curt “Hello” and openly affectionate only to dogs and horses; an inveterate gambler and tea-drinker who loves the feel of long odds against him; stirred to catcalls and applause by nothing but the struggles of twenty-two men with a ball; apparently more engrossed in the defence of three stumps and a pair of bails against a small leather ball than in the preservation of a mighty and illustrious empire; prone to neglect all else in his eagerness to see whether one horse can run faster than nine others; an islander among islanders regarding his home as his castle and the rest of the world as too alien to merit serious consideration; looking upon himself, in a foreign country, as the one sane being in a world full of gibbering foreigners; yet strangely tolerating the ancient and the outlandish; always insanely cheerful and incredibly blundering into disaster and still more fantastically blundering out of it; but always maddeningly, bewilderingly, calm...

But what looks calmer than a flywheel at top speed ? What is calmer than the heart of a whirlwind ? What more human than the foibles and eccentricities of the incomprehensible English?

G.D.B. Jones, VIc


After that I can't help wondering what would have happened had an English boy retaliated by writing a similarly provocative piece about the Welsh in the following edition of the school magazine. It would have been a much more courageous act. We have to remember that the RGS was deep into the (very Welsh) Tucker era when this was written, which was not dissimilar to the Tudor period in the country at large in some particulars - hugely successful in many important ways, but inclined to be brutally repressive when anyone stepped out of line. Would Tucker have smiled indulgently? Or sought to persuade the dissident of his wrong-headedness in a more robust way? You'll have to make your own minds up...
John Saunders
RGS 1963-70 (personal website http://www.saund.co.uk)