Saturday, January 24, 2009

The English Provinces

My aunty has been in town for a few days, and as well as delivering her own delightful company and some charming and amusing family photographs, she brought with her some books salvaged from my grandmother's house.

There is a large two volume dictionary from the late 19th century, which tells us not to misswear.

There is a wonderful book from the 1950s on Australian history since federation, with much enthusiasm about migrant labour (especially keen on people putting fruit into large boxes, it seems). The end papers have a colour reproduction of Old Parliament House on the day it was launched upon the seas of democracy, with the Red Ensign flying alongside the Union Jack. I will be taking this to work to show my colleagues, since it has been the subject of much debate recently.

But my favourite text so far is The English Province: a picturesque survey of the English and Welsh Counties, publishied in 1888 by George Routledge and Sons. Interestingly the author is P. Villars, but with a translation by Henry Frith. Translated from what, I wonder? The book also includes 250 illustrations of extraordinary fineness and detail. The reason I am loving it so, however, is this:
As the fundamental principle of the English Government is to permit everyone to manage his own business as he thinks best, the provincial administration is exclusively local and decentralized.
I am uncertain as to how true this was in 1888, but I am enjoying the self-governing business men inside my mind immensely. Right this minute they are hitting each other with umbrellas and walking out in front of traffic without looking left and right. Anarchy! (They are also wearing bowler hats and suits, and may be quite strongly influenced by Monty Python's depiction of men in the City).

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