The dust of decades had moved into all the pages and I’m not an enthusiastic duster, even with my new microcloth gadget. So as I read it, I tend to sneeze often but my respiratory health is secondary to the helpless spasms of laughter the book causes.
It is 1066 And All That. Written by two Oxford history majors and published in 1930, it purports to be a, well, I’ll quote their subtitle: “A Memorable History of England comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings, and 2 Genuine Dates.”
A very thin paperback (124 pages severely compressed into 62 chapters, each chapter therefore around 2 pages), it’d be a breezy read, except you have to pause every couple of seconds for lengthy laughter.
I hadn’t read 1066 probably since 1930, so was moved to see it had stuck around in my shelves all these years of being ignored. (I don’t expect such loyalty from my books.)
The first thing I’ve noticed is, while I remembered it as a fairly genuine, if satirical history of England, it isn’t. Not quite. I mean, if you know English history (and I know English history very well), you can pick out factual references from, well, this sort of thing:
Julius Caesar was therefore compelled to invade Britain again the following year (54 B.C., not 56, owing to the peculiar Roman method of counting), and having defeated the Ancient Britons by unfair means, such as battering-rams, tortoises, hippocausts, centipedes, axes, and bundles, set the memorable Latin sentence, ‘Veni, Vidi, Vici’, which the Romans, who were all very well educated, constructed correctly.
The Britons, however, who of course still used the old pronunciation, understanding him to have called them ‘Weeny, Weedy, and Weaky’, lost heart and gave up the struggle, thinking that he had already divided them All into Three Parts.
Once my laughter subsided, I observed how many first letters of Important Terms the authors, Sellar and Yeatman, capitalized. No, I’m not wondering whether the Former Guy has read 1066 And All That — there are serious questions about his reading abilities and I’m being kind — but whether one of his Important Advisors instigated this Capital Letter Thing in imitation.
Then I thought, “Wouldn’t it be a Good Thing [1066 always capitalizes this] if someone, not naming anybody, would compose a very short book called 2016 And All That?
My, what Fun It Would Be.
Meanwhile, if you can find an edition of 1066, you too can learn about Nelson:
Napoleon ought never to be confused with Nelson, in spite of their hats being so alike; they can most easily be distinguished from one another by the fact that Nelson always stood with his arm like this, while Napoleon always stood with his arms like that.
Nelson was one of England’s most naval officers, and despised weak commands. At one battle when he was told that his Admiral-in-Chief had ordered him to cease fire, he put the telephone under his blind arm and exclaimed in disgust: ‘Kiss me, Hardy!’
By this and other intrepid manoeuvres the French were utterly driven from the seas.
No, there are no typos in my above copying. Not a one. The whole thing is [sic].