Friday, November 09, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment: Greater Britain

In 1866, Charles Dilke, a British politician, traveled around the world to visit most countries which had been or were colonies of Great Britain. He published the story of his travels in Greater Britain, a rather dense book of over 500 pages.

The journey starts in Virginia which was reeling from the Civil War.  Dilke traveled extensively in the United States, dipped briefly into Canada, crossed the North American continent in a stage coach, as the railroads did not yet extend to the Pacific.  From California, he traveled the Pacific islands and New Zealand.  From New Zealand he sailed to Australia and visited each state there--no simple task in such a large country with very little infrastructure.  The last leg of the journey is in India.

Parts of this book are boring and I admit that I skimmed here and there.  There is, however, much of interest.  I liked the musings on place names, the comparisons of geography, climate, the looks and habits of the people--both native and colonists.  He has some interesting things to say, such as his observation that the more abusive a society is to its women, the more unpleasant, savage, and generally backward they are.  But then he lost me at the end, concluding that the "cheaper races" are threatening the good English stock in many of these countries.  By "cheaper races" he meant the Irish, displaying that curious mental block among the Victorians in which they could at least express (if not practice) enlightened views (for their time) about the people they've conquered and in the next breath declare the Irish to be subhuman.  Doubly curious because the Irish and the English are both descended from the same Celtic and Scandinavian invaders.


  1. "The Irish are the blacks of Europe" - The Commitments.

  2. I lived in Ireland for a time when I was a boy. It really was a lovely place.

  3. That sounds really interesting, and would make a thought-provoking companion to a new book I was thinking I wanted to read anyway: All the Countries We've Ever Invaded: And the Few We Never Got Around To, by Stuart Laycock. (Britain has invaded nine out of ten countries, so look out Luxembourg!)