On this page you will find some quotations that give you an idea of the values that have shaped Clay Lane. I think you will find these writers stand in the best traditions of ‘straightforward English’: principled, forthright, and committed to making sure that freedom, democracy and respect for the nations of the world are more than slogans.
A Reason for Writing
I wrote the books I should have liked to read. That’s always been my reason for writing. People won’t write the books I want, so I have to do it for myself.
C. S. Lewis, author of ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’
Another Reason for Writing
Nothing clears up one’s ideas so much as explaining them.
Professor Cavor, in ‘The First Men in the Moon’ (1901).
On Telling Our Story
It is the custom, and a very bad one, for the English never to tell their own story.
Letter, November 7th, 1803.
On Being Well Off
It is blamed in our Englishmen, that they are apt too much to admire foreigne Countreys and Commodities, and exotick Fashions also, because they are either ignorant of or do not Sufficiently prize the Excellencies of their own native Soil; and herein the old Proverb of the English is verified, They never know when they are well.
From the Dedicatory Letter to Sir Robert Pye at the start of England Described (1659) by Sir Edward Leigh (1602-1671).
Something Worthy of Defence
We have also taken the Roman ideal of just administration, the Greek ideal of democracy and freedom of art, and the French tradition of the family unit, along with the Norse courage and loyalty and the Christian faith.
Like all people, we have made some mistakes and have committed some crimes during our history, but we can say that we have built something worthy of our defence.
From a radio broadcast ‘New Order in Europe’, 23/24 December 1940, by actor Leslie Howard. See Britain’s Destiny.
On Simple Steps
The simple step of a courageous individual is not to take part in the lie. Let the lie come into the world, even dominate the world, but not through me.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in ‘One Word of Truth’ (1972).
On Talent and Industry
If I have done anything worthy of being remembered, it has not been through any superiority of gifts, but only through a moderate portion of them, accompanied, it is true, with energy and the habit of industry and application. As in the case of everyone else, I had for the most part to teach myself.
From the Autobiography of Samuel Smiles, author of Victorian best-seller ‘Self-Help.’ See posts tagged Samuel Smiles.
On the Use of Adversity
Much of the best and most useful work done by men and women has been done amidst affliction — sometimes as a relief from it, sometimes from a sense of duty overpowering personal sorrow. “If I had not been so great an invalid,” said Dr Darwin to a friend, “I should not have done nearly so much work as I have been able to accomplish.”
Samuel Smiles in ‘Character.’ See Triumph in Adversity.
On Talking Back to our Governors
If ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ are to be more than catchwords, clear communication must be the rule, and not the exception. In a totalitarian state it may be sufficient for the dictator and his henchmen to be able to use straightforward language. Do we want a society in which placid masses take their orders from bosses?
The alternative to government by force is government by persuasion. The latter must mean that the governed can talk back to the governors.
From ‘Straightforward English’ (1949), by schoolmaster N. L. Clay. See Straightforward English.
On History and Slogans
The study of history will make us chary about the loud, vague use of formulas. It will make us anxious to see catchwords in their historical relations, and will help us to realise the maleficent effect of phrases which have a fine rhetorical appeal, but very little concrete meaning.
From ‘The Nations of Today’, by John Buchan (1875-1940). See Popular Misconceptions.
On History and Posterity
A people which takes no pride in the noble achievements of remote ancestors will never achieve anything to be remembered with pride by remote descendants.
From ‘The History of England from the Accession of James II’ Vol. III, by Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859). See posts tagged Thomas Babington Macaulay.
On The Judgment of History
It seems to me neither necessary to moralise at every turn in historical writing, nor becoming to adopt an attitude of lofty superiority over anyone who ever played a prominent part in European affairs, nor charitable to lavish undiscriminating censure on any man.
From the Preface to ‘A history of the Papacy During the Period of the Reformation’ Volume iii (1887), by Mandell Creighton (1843-1901).
On The Sympathy of History
History should teach us sympathy with the national past of other peoples.
From ‘English National Character’, the Romanes Lecture at Oxford University given by Mandell Creighton (1843-1901) on June 17th, 1896.
On Being My Brother’s Keeper
No people do so much harm as those who go about doing good.
Mandell Creighton (1843-1901), Bishop of Peterborough, recorded by his widow.
On New Ideas
If someone shows you a new idea, don’t chuck a brick at it. Search its pockets for anything of value.
Attributed to Josiah Stamp (1880-1941), 1st Baron Stamp, by John Hoskyns in Just in Time: Inside the Thatcher Revolution.
On The Lessons of History
The hasty reformer who does not remember the past will find himself condemned to repeat it.
From John Buchan’s general introduction to the series ‘Nations of Today’.
On English History
I warmly welcome the genuine eagerness with which you make the effort to acquaint yourself in detail with the sayings and doings of earlier generations, and particularly the famous men of our own nation.
For if history relates good things about good men, the attentive listener is stirred to imitate what is good; whereas if it records the evil done by wicked men, the listener will himself be all aflame to pursue, more skilfully than before, those things which he knows are good and worthy in God’s eyes.
Abridged from Bede’s ‘History of the English Church and People’, completed in 731 and dedicated to King Ceolwulf of Northumbria. See The Lessons of History.
On Fairy Tales
Forbearance, courtesy, consideration for poor and aged, kind treatment of animals, love of nature, abhorrence of tyranny and brute force - many such good things have been first nourished in the child's heart by this powerful aid. Every one who has considered the subject knows full well that a nation without fancy, without some romance, never did, never can, never will, hold a great place under the sun.
From ‘Frauds on the Fairies’, by Charles Dickens. See Presumption and Innocence
Freedom is a Noble Thing
Ah! freedom is a noble thing. Freedom makes a man to have zest in life, and gives him all comfort. He that lives free, lives at ease. A noble heart can have no ease, nor aught else to pleasure it, if freedom fail.
John Barbour (?1320-1395), in ‘The Bruce.’ See Ah! Freedom is a Noble Thing and posts on Liberty and Prosperity.
On Liberty and Prosperity
There is another thing that renders England rich, viz. the liberty of conscience, granted and allowed to every nation, whereby great numbers of foreigners are invited to come and trade here sooner than in Spain and other countries, where liberty of conscience is not allowed.
Supposedly the observation of a Portuguese merchant named Manoel Gonzales, but probably the opinion of businessman and writer Daniel Defoe (?1660-1731). See The Best and Worst of Britain.
On the Friendship of Trade
Some two dayes after, the Emperour called me againe, demanding the reason of our comming so farre: I answered, We were a People that sought all friendship with all Nations and to have trade of Merchandize in all Countries, bringing such Merchandizes as our Country had, and buying such Merchandizes in strange Countryes, as our Countrey desired; through which our Countryes on both side were inriched.
From a letter written by William Adams, recounting his audience with the ruler of Japan, Ieyasu, in 1600. See Will Adams.
On Free Trade
Free Trade! What is it? Why, breaking down the barriers that separate nations; those barriers, behind which nestle the feelings of pride, revenge, hatred, and jealousy, which every now and then burst their bounds, and deluge whole countries with blood. [...] I see in the Free-trade principle that which shall act on the moral world as the principle of gravitation in the universe, — drawing men together, thrusting aside the antagonism of race, and creed, and language, and uniting us in the bonds of eternal peace.
Taken from two speeches by Richard Cobden MP (1804-1865), at Covent Garden in London in 1843, and in Manchester in 1846. See posts on Free Trade and Markets.
On Profit and Loss
We must get rid of the impression, that if the contract be voluntary and the service be mutual, one man’s gain is another’s loss. This view of human society, and of international commerce, has been the cause of infinite evils to mankind. It has introduced into the laws of various countries, regulations intended to grant privileges to certain classes, and to restrict the action of others by way of protection or compensation. It has induced a jealous foreign policy, and put a multitude of restrictions on trade. The real truth is exactly the reverse; for one man’s gain in all acts of free exchange is another man’s gain.
Thorold Rogers (1823-1890), Professor of Economics at Kcl and Oxford, in ‘A manual of Political Economy’ (1869). See posts on Free Trade and Markets.
On Liberty and Responsibility
Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
From ‘A letter to a Member of the French Assembly’ (1791). See There Is Not Liberty Without Self-Control.
On Coercion vs Self-Control
The discipline, if we must call it so, of forced obedience differs by the whole diameter of man’s being from the discipline of self-control. The former may generate a habit or set of habits, and may do this so thoroughly that action at last becomes automatic and the man becomes a puppet, whose movements are controlled by wires which are worked by another man’s words of command. When this point has been reached, the source of the man’s activity has been transferred from his own will to the will of another, and he has lost the power of controlling himself.
From ‘The Tragedy of Education’ (1913) by Edmond Gore Alexander Holmes.
On Not Fearing Liberty
I must admit that I did not learn when I was at Oxford that which I have learned since — namely, to set a due value on the imperishable and inestimable principle of British liberty. The temper which too much prevailed in academical circles was that liberty was regarded with jealousy and fear, something which could not wholly be dispensed with, but which was to be continually watched for fear of excesses.
From remarks at the Palmerston Club, Oxford, January 30th, 1878. Quoted in Morley’s ‘Life’, Vol. 1.
On Selfish Liberty
He [Daniel O’Connell] was succeeded by the Duffys, Mitchells, Meagher, and others, — men who loved liberty for themselves and their country, but were utterly destitute of sympathy with the cause of liberty in countries other than their own. One of the first utterances of John Mitchell on reaching the United States, from his exile and bondage, was a wish for a “slave plantation, well stocked with slaves.”
American anti-slavery and free-trade campaigner Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), recalling his friend Daniel O’Connell, the great Irish statesman. See A selfish Liberty.
On Noisy Extremes
There is, however, this great danger in modern politics: the enormous power gained by small resolute bodies. Extreme people are always shouting and protesting: moderate men are content to work quietly.
From a letter to Mr Charles Roundell, written in 1896 by Mandell Creighton (1843-1901), Bishop of Peterborough.
On Women’s Rights
It is not his [man’s] duty to urge women in the direction of employments they feel to be uncongenial to them; but it is his duty to remove as far as possible all impediments and disqualifications which yet remain in restraint of their own discretion, to leave the choice of careers as open to them as it is to himself and to wait and see what comes of it. Nothing but good can come of it.
Sir Joshua Fitch, leading figure in education during the Victorian era. See Equally Free.
On Roads and Railways
The opening up of the internal communications of a country, is undoubtedly the first and most important element of its growth in commerce and civilisation.
Liberal MP and free-trade campaigner Richard Cobden (1804-1865), as quoted by Samuel Smiles.
On the Use of Learning
Learning’S a Ladder, grounded upon faith,
By which we climb to heaven (the Scripture saith).
And ’tis a means to hurry men to hell,
If grace be wanting for to use it well.
From ‘Hornby’s Hornbook’ (1622).
On Educational Diversity
Nothing has become clearer to me during this investigation than the fact that any sweeping or Procrustean measure will do great injustice... Nothing could be more fatal to true educational progress than any public measure designed to make all schools conform to one type.
Report to the Newcastle Commission in 1868, by pioneering educator Sir Joshua Fitch. See posts by Sir Joshua Fitch.
On Educational Liberty
Discipline must come through liberty. ... We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined.
From ‘The Montessori Method’ (1912) by Italian educational pioneer Maria Montessori.
On Educational Targets
My aim, in writing this book, is to show that the externalism of the West, the prevalent tendency to pay undue regard to outward and visible ‘results’ and to neglect what is inward and vital, is the source of most of the defects that vitiate Education in this country, and therefore that the only remedy for those defects is the drastic one of changing our standard of reality and our conception of the meaning and value of life.
From ‘What Is and What Might Be’ (1911) by Edmond Gore Alexander Holmes.
On Cultural Variety
It is the glory of our empire to embrace within its confines many races and traditions. It is in its variety that its strength lies.
Inauguration Speech as Governor-General of Canada in Quebec, November 1935, by John Buchan. See posts tagged John Buchan.
On English Soil
There must certainly be something very peculiar in the climate and soil of England, which causes it not only to yield such a variety of the productions of the earth, but also such a difference in the tempers and manners of its inhabitants, that no two of them appear to think or act alike.
Mirza Abu Taleb Khan (1752-?1806), in his memoirs of European travel at the turn of the nineteenth century.
The Temperate Zone
The equity of our laws and the freedom of our political system have been the envy of every surrounding nation. It is the boast of the law of England, that it affords equal security and protection to the high and the low, to the rich and the poor. Such is the envied situation of England, which may be compared, if I may be allowed the expression, to the situation of the temperate zone on the surface of the globe, equally removed from the polar frosts on the one hand and the scorching heat of the torrid zone on the other.
From ‘The War Speeches Of William Pitt The Younger’ (1915), by Sir Reginald Coupland (1884-1952). See The Temperate Zone.
The real merchant, as I have a hundred times observed, is a person to be cherished; his calling is as honourable and as conducive to the good of the country, as that of the farmer. It is only when his calling is perverted; when his trade becomes a species of gambling; when he trusts more to craft than to industry, prudence, and integrity; when he, if he be so lucky, may become richer than a lord by the speculations of a few days; when his fortune may be made, when the means of bringing five or six members [i.e. MPs] in amongst the representatives of the people, may be obtained in consequence of one valuable hint from a minister, or a minister’s favourite — then it is that the commercial system becomes dangerous to the liberties of the people and the throne of the king.
From Cobbett’s ‘Political Register’ Ix (January to June 1806). See The Real Merchant.
A fatal poison, tainting at their common source two of the most sacred springs of social life, personal liberty and personal responsibility.
In ‘The Political Writings of Richard Cobden’, by Victorian diplomat Sir Louis Mallet.
An equally hateful though more efficient form of the communist despotism.
From a Speech in Manchester (New York Times, January 28th, 1940), by Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill.
On Christianity and Socialism
In vain do some think that socialism is merely a theory of economics. No, socialism replaces everything with itself; it is founding its own religion. ... [T]he socialists have but one desire: to debunk Christianity, to undermine trust in its historical principles, to mock the content of its ideals, and to drag even its moral teachings through the mire.
Priest-martyr Hilarion (Troitsky), Archbishop of Verey (†1929). From a pamphlet published shortly before the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Full text (Russian).
On a Global Elitism
The delusion that by force you can impose the Millennium on the human race is one of the most dangerous delusions in existence. Those who are out to line their own pockets can do little harm — mere greed defeats its own ends. But the belief in a superstratum of human beings — in Supermen to rule the rest of the decadent world — that, Victoria, is the most evil of all beliefs. For when you say, “I am not as other men” — you have lost the two most valuable qualities we have tried to attain: humility and brotherhood.
In ‘They Came to Baghdad’ (1951).
On the British Labour Movement
A labour leader of a younger generation, Mr Morgan Phillips, has said that the origins of the British Labour movement are to be found in Methodism rather than Marxism.
Remarked by Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah (1877-1957), Aga Khan III, in his Memoirs, in reference to Morgan Phillips (1902-1963), General Secretary of the British Labour Party from 1944 to 1962.
On Britain and Europe
England is insular, maritime, linked through its trade, markets and food supply to very diverse and often very distant countries. Its activities are essentially industrial and commercial, and only slightly agricultural. It has very marked and original customs and traditions. In short, the nature, structure and economic context of England differs profoundly from those of the other States of the Continent.
Charles de Gaulle, Press Conference, 1963. As quoted in the Daily Express (December 14th, 2018).
On the European Union
To try to suppress nationhood and concentrate power at the centre of a European conglomerate would be highly damaging and would jeopardise the objectives we seek to achieve. Europe will be stronger precisely because it has France as France, Spain as Spain, Britain as Britain, each with its own customs, traditions and identity. It would be folly to try to fit them into some sort of identikit European personality. [...] We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.
Margaret Thatcher in the ‘Bruges Speech’, September 20th 1988. For the whole speech, visit the Margaret Thatcher Foundation.
On Dealing with Politicians
“What did I do wrong?”
“Everything. You listened to what he was saying instead of seeing what he was doing.”
In the classic movie ‘The Tin Star’ (1953), written by Joel Kane, Dudley Nichols and Barney Slater.
On the Union Flag
How comes it to pass that the sight of that flag always raises the spirit of Englishmen? It is because it has always been associated with the cause of justice, with opposition to oppression, with respect for national rights, with honourable commercial enterprise.
During an impassioned speech delivered in the House of Commons on April 8th, 1840, condemning the First Opium War against China.
Patriotism, a healthy, lively, intelligent interest in everything which concerns the nation to which we belong, and an unselfish devotedness to the public service, — these are the qualities which make a people great and happy; these are the virtues which ought to be most sedulously cultivated in all classes of the community.
In ‘Reasons for the Enfranchisement of Women’, by Barbara Bodichon (later co-founder of Girton College, Cambridge), October 6th, 1866.
On False Patriotism
All [nations] are equal, and you have no right to set up a system under which one of them is to be placed under moral suspicion or espionage, or to be made the constant subject of invective. If you claim for yourself a superiority, a Pharisaical superiority over the whole of them, then I say you may talk about your patriotism if you please, but you are a misjudging friend of your country, and in undermining the basis of the esteem and respect of other people for your country you are in reality inflicting the severest injury upon it.
William Ewart Gladstone MP, speaking about British attitudes towards Russia in a Speech in Scotland (1879). Gladstone served as Prime Minister on four occasions. See An Exceptional Nation.
“What a glorious thing must be a victory, Sir!” said *** to the Duke. “The greatest tragedy in the world, Madam; except a defeat.”
Recorded by Samuel Rogers.
On Global Policing
If it were the province of Great Britain to administer justice to all the people of the earth — in other words, if God had given us, as a nation, the authority and the power, together with the wisdom and the goodness, sufficient to qualify us to deal forth His vengeance, then should we be called upon in this case to rescue the weak from the hands of their spoilers.
But do we possess these favoured endowments? [...] Do we find ourselves to possess the virtue and the wisdom essential to the possession of supreme power; or, on the other hand, have we not at our side, in the wrongs of a portion of our own people, a proof that we can justly lay claim to neither?
Richard Cobden MP in 1835. Cobden, then little known, was talking about Russophobia during the Russian Empire’s occupation of Poland, though Cobden’s own sympathies lay with the Poles. See A passion for Meddling.
Nationalism is good in its place, but it is an unreliable friend and an unsafe historian. It blinds us to many happenings, and sometimes distorts the truth, especially when it concerns us or our country.
In ‘Glimpses of World History’, by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India.
On Our Superior Civilisation
Both Parliament and people, in this country, seem to get less and less worthy of respect in proportion as they fancy themselves more and more civilised and intelligent.
From the introduction to a collection of William Cobbett’s remarks on British India, published in 1857.
On the British Raj
It [the British Raj] was, quite frankly, a bureaucracy, or, as the wags of Simla used to put it, “government by a dispatch box occasionally tempered by the loss of the key”.
Sir Theodore Morison, Principal of Armstrong College, Durham University (the college later became Newcastle University), in a preface to ‘British India’ (1926) by an (anonymous) Indian Mohammedan.
On the British Empire
Although English officialism may often drift stupidly into gigantic blunders, the men of the nation generally contrive to work their way out of them with a heroism almost approaching the sublime.
Samuel Smiles in ‘Self Help,’ in reference to the Indian Mutiny. See The Siege of Lucknow. ‘Officialism’ is the Victorian word for a ‘strict, often excessive adherence to and respect for official regulations’ (Collins).
On the Lessons of Empire
Doubtless it is more blessed to give than to receive, but it is also more hazardous, for you put the recipient of your bounty under an obligation and that is a condition that only the very magnanimous can accept with good will. Gratitude is not a virtue that comes easily to the human race. I do not think it can be denied that the British conferred great benefits on the peoples over which they ruled; but they humiliated them and so earned their hatred. The Americans would do well to remember it.
W. Somerset Maugham in his Prologue to ‘The Memoirs of the Aga Khan’ (1954). See The Lessons of Empire.
On Disbanding Empires
To propose that Great Britain should voluntarily give up all authority over her colonies ... would be to propose such a measure as never was, and never will be, adopted by any nation in the world. If it was adopted, however, Great Britain would not only be immediately freed from the whole annual expense of the peace establishment of the colonies, but might settle with them such a treaty of commerce as would effectually secure to her a free trade.
Adam Smith, in ‘Wealth of Nations.’ See Disbanding Empire.
On the Ideal of Independence
I believe that it is our duty not only to govern India well now for our own sakes and to satisfy our own conscience, but so to arrange its government and so to administer it that we should look forward to the time when India will have to take up her own government, and administer it in her own fashion.
From a speech delivered in Manchester in 1877. See A dream of Independence.
On Righting Colonial Wrongs
The task of the wise government of so vast an empire may be an impossible one — I often fear it is so — we may fail in our efforts, but, whether we fail or succeed, let us do our best to compensate for the wrong of the past and the present by conferring on the Indian people whatever good it is in our power to give them.
From a letter written in 1883 by John Bright MP, to a fiery anti-colonial speaker touring the USA. Bright said getting protectionist America to offer India free trade would do more good than Empire-bashing. See The Righting of Wrongs.
On Political Alarmism
A base, corrupt, and abject people, when once they are properly frighted, when once they are sufficiently alarmed, will submit to any thing for the sake of being defended. ... If such a thing were attempted in time of peace, it would appear at once so alarming and so exorbitant that every man would oppose the exercise of it.
From a Speech to the House of Commons in February 1794. The issue was a proposal to station German troops in Britain to help repel a possible French invasion.
On Gathering Wisdom
I shall imitate the bee’s habits, gathering those things which belong to the truth and harvesting fruit even from our enemies; but I shall reject all that is worthless, and falsely held to be knowledge.
From ‘The Fount of Knowledge’ by St John Damascene (676-749), a contemporary of St Bede. See posts labelled St John Damascene.
On the Russian Church
The English in Russia, even if they saw around them modes of worship to which they were not accustomed, might at least learn a lesson from a nation which so evidently put the worship of God, whether in the streets, or in their houses, or in their churches, before everything else, and expressed in that worship all the articles of the Christian faith in better proportion than any other Church in Christendom.
The burden of a sermon by Mandell Creighton, the Church of England’s Bishop of Peterborough, as paraphrased by W. J. Birkbeck in a letter to Lord Halifax. Creighton was in Russia representing the Church of England for the Coronation of Tsar Nicholas II in 1896.
On Religious Liberty
Pleased as the king [Ethelbert of Kent] was by their faith and conversion, it is said that he would not compel anyone to Christianity; but where they were believers through deeply held love, he embraced them as fellow subjects in a heavenly kingdom; for he had been taught by the teachers and instigators of his own salvation that service to Christ should be voluntary, and not forced.
Of King Ethelbert of Kent and his people, at the start of the mission of St Augustine in 597.
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
The Last Word
If in the preceding pages you see sound views of commerce, just principles of government, freedom, improvement, morality, justice and truth, anxiously and yet all ineffectively advocated, then, and not otherwise, recommend this trifle to your friends, place it in the hands of the nearest newspaper editors, and bring it in every possible way before the eye of the public; and do this, not for the sake of the author, or the merit of his poor production, but that other and more competent writers may be encouraged to take up, with equal zeal and far greater ability, the same cause, which, we religiously believe, is the cause of the best interests of humanity.
Richard Cobden MP, at the close of ‘Russia and the Eastern Question’ (1854).