In an Aeon essay on the (surprisingly early) deforestation of England, Hugh Thomson writes this about our national identity:
The myth panders to our need for a sense of loss. There is an undercurrent of regret running through our history. A nostalgia for what could have been: the unicorn disappearing into the trees; the loss of Roman Britain; the loss of Albion; the loss of Empire. We are forever constructing prelapsarian narratives in which a golden sunlit time — the Pax Romana, the Elizabethan golden age, that Edwardian summer before the First World War, a brief moment in the mid-1960s with the Beatles — prefigure anarchy and decay. Or the cutting down of the forest.
One only need look at the near-ecstatic reception given to Danny Boyle’s Olympic rendition of our ‘green and pleasant land’, complete with shire culture and hobbit mounds, to see how easily history elides with mythology. Britons are supremely comfortable with that blurring — with a mythic dimension that adds gravitas to our self-understanding, and that imbues the land with a kind of enchantment, a magical aspect that is echoed in our narratives of how we came to be a nation, but is as illusory as the Arthurian lake from which the Lady’s hand emerges to grasp the sword.
Phrase I've never encountered before (Part 1): "Auto-stereotype"
Used by @lazcorp to describe the non-existent version of England that a particular type of conservative aspires to return to (to the detriment of everyone living in actual England)
— robertsharp59 (@robertsharp59) January 15, 2018
The rest of Thomson’s essay is fascinating and you should read the whole thing. British woodlands were chopped down much earlier than we suppose.
Photo: The South Downs, by yrstrly. Available as a Creative Commons licensed image on Flickr, here.