You Ask Me, Why, Tho’ Ill at Ease
By Alfred, Lord Tennyson
You ask me, why, tho’ ill at ease,
Within this region I subsist,
Whose spirits falter in the mist,
And languish for the purple seas.
It is the land that freemen till,
That sober-suited Freedom chose,
The land, where girt with friends or foes
A man may speak the thing he will;
A land of settled government,
A land of just and old renown,
Where Freedom slowly broadens down
From precedent to precedent:
Where faction seldom gathers head,
But by degrees to fullness wrought,
The strength of some diffusive thought
Hath time and space to work and spread.
Should banded unions persecute
Opinion, and induce a time
When single thought is civil crime,
And individual freedom mute;
Tho’ Power should make from land to land
The name of Britain trebly great
Tho’ every channel of the State
Should fill and choke with golden sand
Yet waft me from the harbour-mouth,
Wild wind! I seek a warmer sky,
And I will see before I die
The palms and temples of the South.
The long combat of political campaign is over. Please, let us build and garden our civilization.
I am reminded I was recently attacked for something much like this. Just before the election a woman with whom I often agree was in despair. She is an immigrant and a proud American chauvinist. ‘America, she said, is the only light of the world, and if it fails, the world will pass into darkness.’
I made the mistake of saying that America is just the most recent institution of an idea that had been around a very long time. It is a better institution than those which came before, but if it fails we can build another. We are not helpless before the tides of time. And worse, to her, we have learned in the past two centuries. We could avoid some mistakes in the constitution were we to start over.
Mistakes! In the Constitution! I am now persona non grata.
It seems that to a chauvinist, the Constitution sprung fully formed from the pen of Madison with the incubation of Adams and Jefferson. The Constitution was most definitely not the product of longstanding historical movements.
Along one line to the past lies Magna Carta. The Great Charter is rather clumsy, but it stated some important principles. That justice not be bought and sold. The English in 1689 had a Bill of Rights. It wasn’t a very good one, but it was a solid foundation on which we built out own. The great mistake of the British was that the constituent parts of their constitution were just simple acts of Parliament and could be easily undone. The British still have their Bill of Rights but it has been so changed and undermined that most British schools don’t bother to teach it.
Madison and the boys certainly learned from Montesquieu. The whole division of powers thing.
And the lady whom I offended certainly remembers Republican Rome. The Republic was strong enough that it took three centuries of emperors to take the freedom of the people. Again, it was not a good system, but is was the foundation on which better was built.
So if the lines referring to Britain offend some – telwiddim. History happened. I put out not my own eyes to placate. I do not deny history to avoid offense.