May 11, 2017
Which in a roundabout way brings me back to King Arthur. Assuming he existed, he was probably a Romanized Briton speaking a language much like modern Welsh. A British hero, he was adopted by the English and became a star. Edward I was fascinated by him, convinced that bodies discovered in a tomb in Glastonbury were those of Arthur and his queen, Guinevere. (They surely weren”t.) Edward’s grandson Edward III was also an Arthurian enthusiast, modeling his new order of knighthood”the Order of the Garter”on Arthur’s legendary Round Table. Both these Edwards were Kings of England, but their first language was still French. So I suppose they were Anywheres rather than Somewheres, while a real-life Arthur would have been a Somewhere who posthumously in legend, story, and poetry became an Anywhere celebrated throughout Western Europe.
The point is that identity isn”t fixed from birth; it’s partly, at least, a matter of choice. Nigel Lawson and Michael Howard are two former Tory Cabinet ministers, rich men descended from Jewish immigrants and, you might think, natural Anywheres”Lawson indeed has a house in France, but both were on the Leave side in the E.U. referendum, as of course was the cosmopolitan Boris Johnson.
It’s rash to predict people’s behavior from their background. We are all too complicated for that, too variable and inconsistent also. It’s not only nations that are mongrels or mongrelized. The journalist dismayed to learn that the immigrants Arthur fought against were the English may on reflection have learned something about our ability to absorb and reorder the past. Or, of course, perhaps not.