To celebrate St George’s Day and Shakespeare’s birthday, The Spectator asked some leading public figures for their answers to this vexing question. Here are their sometimes uplifting, sometimes nostalgic replies
It’s the politeness that I miss — the civility that was at one time the Englishman’s (and woman’s) global trademark. I took it for granted as a child that men tipped their hats, stepped aside and held open doors for ladies.
Blairism may have had its day on this side of the Channel, but Bernard-Henri Lévy says that the English Third Way should be a model to his Gallic comradesFrench Socialists are extraordinary. For the past ten years, they have made ‘Blairism’ their foil, even declaring that it embodies exactly what the Left — and in particular, their Left — must not be.They see in Blairism the quasi-diabolical incarnation of the betrayal of the very ideals they claim to embody.
Roger Scruton hails the glorious achievements of the English composers, and their role in idealising the gentleness of the English arcadia — so loathed by our liberal eliteThe English have always loved music, joining chamber groups, orchestras, operas and choirs just as soon as they can put two notes together. But it was not until Elgar that a distinctive national voice was heard in the concert hall.
Shakespeare’s birthday celebrations in Stratford-upon-Avon may be a small-town affair, but it is one of the very few non-London dates that involves the diplomatic corps.On Saturday 26 April no fewer than 18 ambassadors will attend the occasion, the world’s nations joining sundry Warwickshire dignitaries, Stratford’s mayoral chain gang, various Shakespearean bodies, the band of the Corps of Royal Engineers, the Coventry Corps of Drums, sweet little local schoolchildren in boaters, Morris men and some 20,000 delighted onlookers.
As nationalities proliferate, the English want their turn, says Rod Liddle — who considers himself British first. St George’s Day and ‘Englishness’ have been partially decontaminated, but we are no closer to a definition of what ‘England’ is — and quite right tooMiklosvar, TransylvaniaIt is very easy for the majority Hungarian population in this most wild and beautiful quarter of Europe to define their essential Hungarian-ness: they are defined, principally, by what they are not.
George Bridges on the part played by his great-grandfather, Robert Bridges, in the composition of Parry’s music to Blake’s lyric: too precious, he says, to be hijacked by separatistsI suspect you had better things to do last Friday evening than stay in to watch the English Democrats’ party political broadcast. I missed it. In fact, I didn’t know the party existed until I was throwing out the newspapers at the weekend, and happened to see the broadcast listed on the TV page.