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ON THE IMPORTANCE OF HISTORY

WE SEEM to be burdened at the moment with the least historically informed leader in U.S. history. I offer our president’s misdating the career of Andrew Jackson (“I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War”); the same problem with Frederick Douglass (“… someone who has done a terrific job that is being recognized by more and more people”); and with Lincoln (“Most people don’t even know he was a Republican. Does anyone know? Lot of people don’t know that”). There’s also his U.N.-speech covfefeing two African nations into “Nambia.” But then recall his appreciation of African nations.

It’s a pity there isn’t a history book for him that is as concise (172 pages), focused (“all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings, and 2 Genuine Dates”), and entertaining as 1066 And All That.

1066 And All That: A Memorable History of England, by W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman, illustrated by John Reynolds, Methuen, 1930; reprinted in paperback 2010. SCRIBD offers a .pdf of an original 1930 edition.

Walter Carruther Sellar and Robert Julian Yeatman originally composed 1066 And All That as a series of articles for Punch, the English humour weekly. Their idea was to satirize traditional approaches to teaching history, in which specific facts are likely to be misremembered anyway.

Cover of the first Punch, or The London Charivari, July 17, 1841.

Sellar and Yeatman solve this pedagogical problem adroitly by mangling the facts to begin with. Here’s a sampling of their satire.

From the “Compulsory Preface (This Means You).” “History is not what you thought. It is what you can remember. All other history defeats itself.”

From “Press Opinions.” “ ‘… We look forward keenly to the appearance of their last work.’ (The Review of Reviews of Reviews.)

This and the following illustrations by John Reynolds from 1066 And All That.

From “Errata. “P. 44 For sausage read hostage.”

On the Origin of the Word “Anglo.” “Noticing some fair-haired children in the slave market, Pope Gregory, the memorable pope, said (in Latin), ‘What are those?’ and on being told that they were Angels, made the memorable joke—‘Non Angli, sed Angeli’ (’not Angels, but Anglicans’) and commanded one of his saints called St Augustine to go and convert the rest.”

Of King Alfred, Who Might Have Been King Arthur as well. “KING ALFRED was the first Good King, with the exception of Good King Wenceslas, who, though he looked 4th, really came first (it is not known, however, what King Wenceslas was King of).”

On Henry VIII. “He also invented a game called ‘Bluff King Hal,’ which he invited his ministers to play with him. The players were blindfolded and knelt down with their heads on a block of wood; they then guessed whom the King would marry next.”

On Henry VIII and the Monasteries. “It was pointed out to him that no one in monasteries was married, as the Monks all thought it was still the Middle Ages. So Henry, who, of course, considered marrying a Good Thing, told Cromwell to pass a very strong Act saying that the Middle Ages were all over and the monasteries were all to be dissolved. This was called the Disillusion of the Monasteries.”

On the U.S Revolutionary War. “The War with the Americans is memorable as being the only war in which the English were ever defeated, and it was unfair because the Americans had the Allies on their side…. After this the Americans made Wittington President and gave up speaking English and became U.S.A. and Columbia and 100%, etc.”

On Concluding the Book at the End of World War I. “America was thus clearly Top Nation, and history came to a .”

Offering 1066 And All That to our president has the real and present danger of his failing to recognized it as satire. Other attempts thus far have had little effect.

But the rest of us can still obtain delight and perhaps some succor in this wonderful book. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018

One comment on “ON THE IMPORTANCE OF HISTORY

  1. Gene Herbert
    August 2, 2018

    And then there was a candidate who ran for president of these 57 states – and we elected him. Twice.
    I guess one’s ideology colors his understanding of what is important.

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