Charles,the Defender of Our Culture

Article excerpt

Byline: WILLIAM REES-MOGG

Since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, there have been rather few creative modernisers in the Royal Family - Charles II, whose patronage helped to establish the Royal Society, Prince Albert, who masterminded the Great Exhibition of 1851, and now Prince Charles.

He is, one might say, a postmodernist moderniser, partly reacting against the aesthetic and moral brutalism of the late 20th Century.

None of the three has received much thanks for his attempts to modernise Britain. Our Victorian ancestors were irritated by Albert's serious German idealism. We are now seeing a broadening recognition that Prince Charles has been perceptive in his choice of good causes to champion. Compared with our politicians, he has been an early bird, particularly in his defence of the environment.

Throughout his adult life, Prince Charles has opposed the progressive weakening and coarsening of our traditional culture, on aesthetic, spiritual and social grounds.

Part of this has been a conservative reaction, similar in spirit to the 19th Century reaction against the early Industrial Age.

Yet Prince Charles has usually reached out towards futuristic solutions, rather as the great Victorians, John Ruskin and William Morris, tried to do in their time. He has to be taken seriously; like Prince Albert he may receive more recognition from posterity than from his contemporaries.

Last week the Prince announced his latest initiative. He is to set up his own training programme to promote traditional methods of teaching English and history in state schools. He believes modern teaching methods have robbed children of their cultural inheritance.

He is working with Cambridge University to establish the Prince's Cambridge Programme For Teaching. 'For all sorts of well-meaning reasons, and for too many pupils, teaching has omitted to pass on to the next generation not only our deep knowledge of literature and history, but also the value of education,' he said.

There is extensive literature on the teaching of English and history and their role in education. There are both social and personal aspects. John Milton, England's greatest epic poet, took an epic view of the impact of such an education on the individual. 'I call that,' he wrote, 'a complete and generous education, which fits a man to perform justly, skilfully, and magnanimously, all the offices, both public and private, of peace and war.'

This is the extreme view of what literature and history can do for the individual.

Yet, in very real fact, this was how Winston Churchill educated himself, with historic consequences. In 1940, he was prepared for his supreme role because he had read the historical works of Thomas Babington Macaulay and written the life of his great ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough.

One could say that Churchill's leadership, which won the Battle of Britain in 1940, had been taught to him by Marlborough's victory at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704.

The lessons of history can become part of the psychology of the individual.

Until the end of the Second World War, the grammar and public schools maintained the tradition of teaching Latin and Greek, and the major classical authors. From 1500 to 1950, an educated Englishman, and many English women, was someone who had at least some acquaintance with the classical epic poets, Homer and Virgil, and that universal Roman advocate, politician and philosopher, Cicero. …