The rest is his­tory

Pine­hurst II, Pine­hurst Road, Farn­bor­ough Busi­ness Park, Farn­bor­ough, Hamp­shire GU14 7BF Tele­phone 01252 555072 www.coun­trylife.co.uk

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

His­tory comes round to bite us; it al­ways does. As hu­man na­ture doesn’t change much over the years, the same sit­u­a­tions and dilem­mas keep re­peat­ing them­selves. the crit­i­cisms made of a Prime Min­is­ter who, be­fore the elec­tion, re­lied solely on a small clique of favoured con­fi­dants, to the ex­clu­sion of older, wiser coun­sels, would have been per­fectly com­pre­hen­si­ble at the court of richard ii. As Dame Hi­lary Man­tel has been re­mind­ing us in her re­ith Lec­tures, the peo­ple of past times were not so dif­fer­ent from those of to­day. Con­di­tions were prob­a­bly less squalid than we com­monly imag­ine. they had a lin­gua franca in Latin. there was less to con­tend with in their lives— no air­craft noise, pneu­matic drills or Glas­ton­bury lev­els of am­pli­fi­ca­tion; the loud­est noise was thun­der.

How­ever, not ev­ery­thing was so idyl­lic. it’s easy to for­get that slav­ery was preva­lent in many places other than the an­cient world and Africa. the Vik­ings who over­ran rus­sia were so bru­tal in this re­spect that the sub­ject peo­ple be­came known by the name of slave—the slavs. in the Cau­ca­sus, de­feated armies were rou­tinely en­slaved and, well into the 19th cen­tury, traded. We re­coil from the bar­bar­ity of some mod­ern con­flicts, trans­mit­ted via the tele­vi­sion and com­puter screen, but alas, the only new thing in this—be­yond tech­nol­ogy—is our re­ac­tion. When the Fourth Cru­sade sacked the Chris­tian city of Con­stantino­ple in 1204, men, women and chil­dren were slaugh­tered—un­til the Cru­saders turned their at­ten­tion to plun­der­ing the churches and car­ry­ing away trea­sures such as the horses now in st Mark’s Basil­ica in Venice.

As Britain pre­pares to re­mem­ber the end of the First World War, it’s worth re­flect­ing that 1918 didn’t bring an end to con­flict for many par­tic­i­pat­ing na­tions and blood­shed con­tin­ued on an ap­palling scale, for ex­am­ple, in the Ar­me­nian Geno­cide and across rus­sia.

it may be that the West has de­vel­oped in so­phis­ti­ca­tion since then, how­ever pro- gress brings its own dan­gers. We live un­nat­u­ral lives, re­liant on sci­en­tific the­ory rather than the slow, de­lib­er­ate tread of tra­di­tion. No one would ad­vo­cate a re­turn to the con­di­tions of sa­muel Pepys’s London. Nev­er­the­less, the Great Fire, which he wit­nessed, did not cause great loss of life. More peo­ple have died fall­ing from the Mon­u­ment that com­mem­o­rates it than were recorded as fa­tal­i­ties in the fire.

in those days, many build­ings had roofs of thatch—a highly com­bustible ma­te­rial, but peo­ple knew how it be­haved. the same can­not be said of the high-tech ma­te­ri­als of to­day. our lives are in the hands of ex­perts, who are far from in­fal­li­ble.

And yet, for all these stresses, the great truth re­mains. Europe has lived through a blessed half cen­tury. Although Britain has been at war from time to time, the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion has barely no­ticed it (some­times to its shame). We be­have to each other with a de­gree of ci­vil­ity that would have been unimag­in­able in most pe­ri­ods of the past.

Will future his­to­ri­ans re­gard us as the lucky gen­er­a­tion? or the one that did not take suf­fi­cient care to cher­ish and pro­tect the good for­tune that was, tem­po­rar­ily, its lot?

‘Will future his­to­ri­ans re­gard us as the lucky gen­er­a­tion?

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