Mrs H of Houston asks what it is that old things contribute to human happiness and understanding.
Such questions, apparently so simple, are the hardest to answer. Think then, Mrs H, of an 18th century England – no, before we come to England, think of Scotland after the failure of the ‘45 rebellion, crushed by the Duke of Cumberland at Culloden in 1746, and forced to support the Hanoverian succession. The Highlands, made penetrable by the construction of the military roads, were stripped of an entire ancient culture by the clearances, first executed by the Drummonds on their Perthshire estates in 1762. In those circumstances Mrs H – in a time of such rapid change on a scale rivalled only by the colonisation of North America – in such circumstances would one not look back to see what one could still hang on to? Would not the Scots turn to Robbie Burns? – a local hero, writing in the Scots tongue, upholding the nobility of the crofter in an older Scotland, as Scotland itself was threatened with disintegration, and absorption into Britain.
And was England so different? Turnpikes, enclosure, the agricultural revolution, war and new money had destabilised society. Industrialisation threatened to bring political upheaval with it – in those circumstances there was a ready market for a solitary untutored Englishman, Capability Brown, to purvey the vision of an ancient and green England and assert the lasting and timeless values of the country. He rebranded agricultural improvement as ‘alteration’ and sold it as a restoration of olde England.
So Mrs H if Houston appears to you to be on an equally steep ascent, in flux, with massive expansion, with massive new wealth, would you not look back over your shoulder to make sure that something at least, something somehow important, some part of what made you human, some part of the ground from which you sprang, would still attach to you?