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Topic: The "unofficial" British Empire  (Read 2793 times)
Seneca
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« on: October 21, 2006, 08:49:24 AM »

The reason I referred to the British Empire as "unofficial empire" is because I found the term pertinent to the subject of what this historic entity truly was, in addition to the fact that the term first appeared in a brilliant new work (quite a rarity in the modern historiography) on the subject of the British Empire ("The Rise & Fall of the British Empire" by Lawrence James (Abacus Book, London, 1998)). The reason he termed it an "unofficial" Empire is because so much that Britain controlled was not even listed as officially belonging to the British Imperial administration, and there were other methods through which control was exercised, not least through "gunboat diplomacy".

In a quite fascinating way this talented author combines the value of military history with the flow of Time and its universal effect across various arenas of imperial life, resulting in a multi-faceted reflection on the subject, which is quite stimulating. He aptly quoted a source on (Sir Francis Doyle's poem "A Private of the Buffs") to explain and honor the kind of "gravitas" required in those days for the empire to flow:

"Last night among his fellow roughs
He jested, quaffed and swore,
A drunken private of the Buffs
Who never looked before.
Today beneath the foeman's frown
He stands in Elgin's place,
Ambassador from England's crown,
And type for all her race."

Poets did capture the spirit of the age, and there were many British ones who did so (such as Tennyson), however on the proud old Continent there were also those who did that as well (in some ways even more powerfully expressed), such as the Napoleonic-era German poet Heinrich Heine (much like Uhland) who beautifully captured the spirit of that age in his ballad "Zwei Grenadiere":

Two Soldiers

Two grenadiers were returning to France,
From Russian captivity they came.
And as they crossed into German lands
They hung their heads in shame.

Both heard there the tale that they dreaded most,
That France had been conquered in war;
Defeated and shattered, that once proud host,
And the Emperor, has fallen captive.

The grenadiers both started to weep
At hearing so sad a review.
The first said, "My pain is too deep;
My old wound is burning anew!"

The other said, "The song is done;
Like you, I'd not stay alive;
But at home I have wife and son,
Who without me would not survive."

What matters son? What matters wife?
By nobler needs I set store;
Let them beg, let them starve!
My Emperor, my emperor has fallen!

Promise me, brother, this:
If at this time I should die
Take my corpse to France;
In France's dear earth let me lie.

The Cross of Valor, on its red band,
Over my heart you shall lay;
My musket placed into my hand;
And my sword at my side.

("So will ich liegen und horchen still,")
So shall I lie upright in the ground,
("Wie eine Schildwach, im Grabe,")
A guardwatch, silently staying
("Bis einst ich höre Kanonengebrüll")
Till once more I hear the cannon's pound
("Und wiehernder Rosse Getrabe.")
And the hoofbeats of horses neighing.

("Dann reitet mein Kaiser wohl über mein Grab,")
Then my Emperor'll be passing right over my grave;
("Viel Schwerter klirren und blitzen;")
Each clashing sword, a flashing thunder.
("Dann steig ich gewaffnet hervor aus dem Grab")
And I, fully armed, will walk-up from that grave,
("Den Kaiser, den Kaiser zu schützen!")
The Emperor's, the Emperor's protector!"


Certainly Heine faithfully captured the powerful spirit of the Napoleonic age of war and the deep secret in the hearts of men who fought for what was in their heart, for the bones of Napoleon's men lay scattered across Europe, Africa and Asia, from Moscow through Giza and Jaffa to channel La Manche, and not for a pay, and for more than a mere patriotism.

And so was the case also with the men of the British Empire whose bones lay literally scattered across the world's continents and oceans....and still we might hear the echo of their pride "Rule Britannia! Brittania rule the waves.....Britons never shall be slavees...!"
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("Willing Individuals Advance On the Wings of Destiny - Unwilling Ones Stagger-on by Destiny's Coattails.")

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