3/13/15

The Flying Vandal

THE curse of long distances, which is coming to be like the curse of large fortunes, threatens to have a very ruinous effect on one of the real glories of England. If there is one thing that the history of this country has preserved more than that of any other country it is the individuality of the small town. The turn of each street is unexpected; the feature of each market place is unique. They are in their very shape as quaint and elvish as their quaint and elvish names—Nether Wallop, or Stoke Poges, or Stow-in-the-Wold. Those who love liberty, those who love beauty, those who love the essential of English tradition, know that this variety turns England into Elfland.

But our immediate point is a particular fashion in which it is being swept away. The excuse is given that these angels and obstruction become death-traps when they are assailed with reckless and rapid motoring. Nobody seems to answer that reckless motoring is a danger to themselves. Old landmarks must be cleared away to give motorists a playground in which to play the fool, or a large and airy lethal chamber in which to commit suicide. It would puzzle the people of this mental caliber to tell them that in many great civilizations a man would have had to respect the gate and banner of an ancient municipality, or salute the gods of the city as he passed.

But, in any case, the following extraordinary principle is established. A monument in a market town does not belong to the market town; but only to a man who lives forty miles away to the south. To him the market is mere blur of dust and confused colours; he cares nothing about it; perhaps he does not even know its name. But he is the king of that city, who can order all monuments to fall. He can send pioneers on in front of him to cut down the oak under which Alfred sat or in which Charles was hidden, simply and solely because he cannot drive through the oak and will not bother to drive round it. He can knock off a large corner of a house in which Chaucer drank or Wolsey slept, simply because he prefers a curve to a corner when he is rushing blindly from Brighton to Charing Cross. The town he owns is not the town he inhabits, or even the town he wishes to reach. Never was there a safer or smoother form of imperial expansion. We have heard many tales of Big Bertha and the modern shelling of great cities from far away. The old English towns are to be shelled and shot to pieces from very far away. They are bombarded with cars, and not with cannon balls, and blown up with petrol instead of powder. But only long-range artillery is recognised as having any rights in the matter. The only principle recognised is that the village cross of Hugby-in-the-Hole must be immediately pulled down, to please a gentleman who lives in Mancheser and is very anxious to get to Margate.

G. K. C.

(Originally published in G.K.'s Weekly