ECCENTRIC COUNTRY – ENGLAND

Peter Milward


Weblisher: BriFrancis, 2008

CONTENTS

 

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Preface:  English Humour in Pictures

  

Part I.  Ancient Eccentricities

1.       The Whale Stone

2.       Mysticism in Cows

3.       The Stone Dance

4.       A Dark Lighthouse

 

Part II.  Monuments of Madness

5.       Craziness from the Cradle

6.       The Ruins of Time

7.       Poetry amid Penury

8.       Play amid Ruins

 

Part III.  Castles in the Air

9.       Another Ruthless King

10.    Aftermath of a Masque

11.    Sheep at a Banquet

12.    Soldiers on Guard

 

Part IV.  Mad Mansions

13.    Disney in Cheshire

14.    The Haunted Hall

15.    The Shambles

16.    The Crooked Hall

 

Part V.  Holy Follies

17.    Converging Lines

18.    People on Pinnacles

19.    An Inclining Chancel

20.    The Spire and the Window

 

Part VI.  Queer Carvings

21.    Jacob’s Ladder

22.    Mediaeval Sumo

23.    An Indian Boy

24.    A Strange Saint

 

Part VII.  Comic Graves

25.  A Grave Figure-Head

26.  An Acrostic Epitaph

27.  The Church Cat

28.  Dead as Donkeys

 

Part VIII.  Unique Universities

29.  Funny Faces

30.  Spikes for Students

31.  Pig with Wings

32.  Fire!

 

Part IX.  Inspiration in Inns

33.  The Flying Horse

34.  The Fighting Cocks

35.  First and Last

36.  The End of the World

 

Part X.  Peculiar Publicity

37.  Touting for Tooth-Paste

38.  Bend or Bump!

39.  Upon My Sole!

40.  Private Property

 

Part XI.  Floral Folly

41.  The Anchor in Flower

42.  Sesame Street

43.  Floral Time

44.  British Bonsai

 

Part XII.  Animal Antics

45.  Cowardice of Cows

46.  Crossing the Road

47.  A Dog in the Water

48.  A Circus Cat

 

 

LINKS

Who is Peter Milward?

Blog Brittonia

All About Francis Xavier

BriFra

Who are the Jesuits?

Joining the Jesuits in Japan

About

  

    

 A Lifetime with Hopkins  by Peter Milward

  

   

     Jacobean Shakespeare
by Peter Milward

  

Shakespeare the Papist by Peter Milward 

    

 

 

Preface.  English Humour in Pictures

 

   I fail to see how a book on English humour can be impersonal or objective.  In other words, I fail to see how a book on English humour can be serious.  It has to be both personal and subjective.  That is to say, this book of mine on English humour has to take for its point of departure my little self, as being the point at the centre of an English circumference.  Mine is, however, no such “still point” as T.S.Eliot envisages in his Four Quartets.  Rather, it is an ever moving point as I guide groups of Japanese students on tours of the English countryside, or what I call literary and historical pilgrimages in search of England.  Moreover, when I guide these groups, I do so in Japanese style equipped with a camera and an eye for pictures, especially funny pictures, for showing to my classes back in Japan.  And that is the beginning of my little book.

 

   Now after the passing of so many years and the conducting of so many tours of England, I have amassed quite a collection of slides of my dear country, and quite a number of them may deserve the epithet of “funny”.  Only an explanation is needed to go with my perception of their funniness.  And by supplying this explanation for one picture after another, arranged in a certain order, I may be in a position to show what is meant by that evanescent entity known as “English humour”, which is proverbially shy of scholastic definition but which lends itself more readily to what are termed “sundry examples”, especially when the examples can be illustrated by photos.

 

   Not that all the pictures I show are obviously funny.  In many cases, as with buildings, the humour remains hidden, till it is pointed out.  For that matter, it seems to me, in all things one may point to a humorous aspect, so long as one sufficiently knows the things themselves and adverts to this aspect of theirs.  After all, humour is universal among men.  Even that serious Greek philosopher Aristotle defined man not only as a “rational animal” but also as a “risible animal”, that is to say, an animal endowed with the ability to laugh.

 

   Incidentally, this leads me to wonder why, if laughter is so essential to human nature, there is so little laughter to be found in the pages of the Bible or even in the ancient Classics of Greece and Rome, apart from the professed authors of comedy and satire.  Indeed, it seems to be only from the time of the English Chaucer, in the late fourteenth century, that laughter becomes pervasive in human literature.  From then onwards it seems to flow like a river through the writings of men, till it enters into the ocean of “nonsense” in the late nineteenth century.

 

   As for the word “humour”, as it appears in Shakespeare’s time in the Elizabethan age, it still possesses the old meaning of one of the four fluids in the body – melancholy, phlegm, sanguis, and choler – especially when one predominates over the others, instead of remaining in an ideal balance.  Thus, in the contemporary “comedy of humours”, as cultivated by Ben Jonson, it has the meaning of any exaggeration in character and behaviour that prompts the audience to laugh.  However, “humour”, in the modern sense of amusement at the incongruity of things, hardly appears till the age of Doctor Johnson in the mid-eighteenth century.

 

   Even today “humour” is still associated with some idea of eccentricity, or that which differs from the norm or centre of things.  Today, however, we no longer laugh at such eccentricity.  We prefer to laugh with it, as we are aware of our own eccentricity.  Indeed, we English often like to think of ourselves as a “nation of eccentrics”.  As Shakespeare says of us in Hamlet, when the prince of Denmark is sent to England because of his madness, “It will not be seen in him there. For there the men are as mad as he.”  In this way, the great dramatist pokes fun at his own nation, and at himself.

 

   Chaucer, Shakespeare, Doctor Johnson – what great humorists they were!  More than any others, they may be credited with having bequeathed to the English, more than any other nation, their proverbial sense of humour.  Nor should we forget that humanist-saint, Sir Thomas More, who was so fond of what he called “merry jests”.  It was even said of him, almost in a tone of complaint against him, that it was hard to tell when he was jesting and when he was being serious.  For when he made a jest, he wore a serious face, and when he was most serious, he appeared to be jesting.

 

   So the line may be traced, through Dean Swift and Lawrence Sterne in the eighteenth century, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear in the nineteenth century, to G.K.Chesterton and P.G.Wodehouse in the twentieth century.  Such indeed was the humour of GKC that he even regarded it as a principal attribute of God himself.  Even when God seems to be most serious, he observes in the climax of his masterpiece Orthodoxy – which might equally receive the title Paradoxy, such is his addiction to paradoxes – he seems to be hiding something, and that is, he says, the divine humour.  In this sense, it may be added, the English may well be named “God’s own people”, at least insofar as they remain – unlike the Puritans – true to their innate sense of humour.

 

   But enough of rational discourse on the theory of humour!  Now it is high time for me to turn to the pictures that serve to illustrate English eccentricity in practice.