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Myths and Metaphors of Popular Imperialism, 1880–1918

The debate about the Empire dealt in idealism and morality, and both sides employed the language of feeling, and frequently argued their case in dramatic terms. This book opposes two sides of the Empire, first, as it was presented to the public in Britain, and second, as it was experienced or imagined by its subjects abroad. British imperialism was nurtured by such upper middle-class institutions as the public schools, the wardrooms and officers' messes, and the conservative press. The attitudes of 1916 can best be recovered through a reconstruction of a poetics of popular imperialism. The case-study of Rhodesia demonstrates the almost instant application of myth and sign to a contemporary imperial crisis. Rudyard Kipling was acknowledged throughout the English-speaking world not only as a wonderful teller of stories but as the 'singer of Greater Britain', or, as 'the Laureate of Empire'. In the last two decades of the nineteenth century, the Empire gained a beachhead in the classroom, particularly in the coupling of geography and history. The Island Story underlined that stories of heroic soldiers and 'fights for the flag' were easier for teachers to present to children than lessons in morality, or abstractions about liberty and responsible government. The Education Act of 1870 had created a need for standard readers in schools; readers designed to teach boys and girls to be useful citizens. The Indian Mutiny was the supreme test of the imperial conscience, a measure of the morality of the 'master-nation'.

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Robert H. MacDonald

Popular fictions became handbooks for the imperial programme, and the ethos of adventure argued the case for the 'Dominant Race'. This chapter looks at the 'grammar' of adventure in its most obvious, juvenile form. It focuses on two of the most successful adventure writers of the high imperial age, Cutcliffe Hyne and Edgar Wallace. The bestselling novelists, Cutcliffe Hyne and Edgar Wallace, exploited the imperial theme, and, finding the continent where their heroes could best exert themselves, put them into equatorial Africa, on the ultimate boundary between civilisation and savagery. Both Hyne's Captain Kettle and Wallace's Commissioner Sanders were hugely popular; both heroes were spun out from a first creation into one pot-boiler after another. Heart of Darkness, the fiction Joseph Conrad based on his experience of the Congo exploitation and brutality, has been read as the ultimate liberal criticism of imperialism as a nightmare vision.

in The language of empire
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Robert H. MacDonald

This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. In arguing for the importance of the metaphorical construction of empire, the book begins with the understanding that language is itself a determinant in the perception of reality. Following some of the theoretical positions derived from the work of Michel Foucault, the book focuses on the role of discourse as a conventional but privileged language use. The book opposes two sides of the Empire, first, as it was presented to the public in Britain, and second, as it was experienced or imagined by its subjects abroad. It also focuses on the mythmakers themselves, on Rudyard Kipling and on the soldiers of fortune who found their identity in his words. The book looks at some popular imperial fictions, in which the imperial mission is dramatised without any of the complications of geopolitical fact.

in The language of empire
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Robert H. MacDonald

This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the concepts discussed in the preceding chapters of this book. The book begins by analysing some of the general rules which seemed to organise the metaphorical realities of empire. It also presents the fictional worlds of two imperial best-sellers. Between these poles of 'fact' and 'fiction', the book argues for the importance of a controlling narrative of empire, the myth of History, and explores its particular representations in the signs of the hero. The case-study of Rhodesia demonstrated the almost instant application of myth and sign to a contemporary imperial crisis. The book looks at the involvement of the individual in the business of mythmaking, both as manufacturer, as with Rudyard Kipling and Roger Pocock, and as consumer, as with George Hamilton-Browne and Stanley Portal Hyatt.

in The language of empire
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Robert H. MacDonald

The 'Island Story' became a part of both formal and informal education, and through adventure stories, part of the imaginative world of hundreds of thousands of young readers. By the end of Victoria's reign the idea of Saxon supremacy among nations had become a strategic element of the Island Story. When in 1904 the 24th of May was declared Empire Day, the business of reproducing the 'Island Story' was institutionalised. The entry of the New Imperialism into the state school system took place during the first years of the new century, and can be illustrated in the popular histories of the Revd William Henry Fitchett. Herbert Strang's Rob the Ranger, a run-of-the-mill historical romance for boys published in 1908, quite typically uses the Island Story to teach its readers some simple imperial lessons.

in The language of empire
Robert H. MacDonald

The early history of the white settler state of Southern Rhodesia provides a quite remarkable example of the extension of the 'Island Story'. In 1895 the whole of the territory controlled and run by the British South Africa Company was named Rhodesia. The war of 1896 threw up no military episode of the same resonance, although in the story of Cecil Rhodes's indaba it would produce another equally powerful symbol of legitimation. Rhodesian history began, the Rhodesian historian H. Marshall Hole remarked, with the expedition of the Pioneer Column into Mashonaland in 1890. In both Matabeleland and Mashonaland whites were attacked, their houses burned, and their goods looted. Pro-imperial newspapers treated the 'Shangani massacre' with high seriousness, and even newspapers cool to the cause competed for the details. The anti-imperialists included Africans within their pale; the imperialists pointed out, again and again, that they were savages.

in The language of empire
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Robert H. MacDonald

This chapter argues that the attitudes of 1916 can be recovered through a reconstruction of a poetics of popular imperialism, incorporating that intricately complex set of tropes, signs, codes, discourses, plots and myths. It establishes the 'singleness' of imperialism, a voice speaking to and constructing the 'purity' of the upper and middle-class English male. If the meaning of militant imperialism was conveyed through apparently contradictory topoi as the laughter of the Maxim gun and 'playing the game', ideology was made dynamic through narrative. The war of conquest, as comic plot, was presented as an accomplice of the laws of Nature or Providence. In the imagining of the late Victorian wars, the combatants were seen as opposing teams, in a discourse of power that Patrick Brantlinger has called, citing its 'deafness to alternative voices', notably one-sided.

in The language of empire
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Robert H. MacDonald

The signs, the Deeds of Glory, could have accommodated either version of General Charles Gordon's death, but the legend of the sacrificial hero felled by savages made a much more powerful argument for the imperial cause. This chapter shows the imagery of military glory pervaded popular culture. Three quite different media, the waxwork museum, the illustrations of a boys' magazine, and the naive verse of William McGonagall, provide useful examples of the sign at work. The primitive verse of William McGonagall, written and published towards the end of Queen Victoria's reign, suggests that the Deeds of Glory had a wide dissemination. In the years on either side of the Boer war, the illustrations in Chums referred again and again to the Deeds of Glory. Chums, like Madame Tussaud's, chose to picture the Gordons 'Storming the Heights at Dargai', commenting 'Gallant Gordons, gallant troops all'.

in The language of empire
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Robert H. MacDonald

This chapter looks at the imperial careers of George Hamilton-Browne and Stanley Portal Hyatt, two typical members of the Lost Legion. The 'reality' Hamilton-Browne and Hyatt described gives us parallel images of imperialism as it was cobbled together or reconstructed in memory by two soldiers of fortune. Hamilton-Browne describes the Irish soldier as fearless but superstitious, prone to theft but glib with an excuse, fond of a fight and holding no grudges. The remainder of Hamilton-Browne's account of life in South Africa is anecdotal. Hamilton-Browne categorised himself as 'an Irishman, a Protestant, a Unionist and an Imperialist', but had little interest in politics, and worried not at all about the rights and wrongs of any fight he was in. The troopers of the New Zealand Colonial Field Force were all men 'who belonged to the class that go to the public schools and the Varsities'.

in The language of empire
Robert H. MacDonald

Roger Pocock praised the 'Laureate of Empire' for his ability to speak directly to the new 'Man of Action', the frontiersman who was carrying the torch for the 'men who made the Empire'. Neil Munro called Rudyard Kipling the 'laureate of English endeavour', but claimed his lightheartedness made him popular. Kipling was the New Age's voice, singing his songs of another England beyond the seas, dreaming the greater vision, praising work, duty, and humanity in all its variety. 'A Song of the English' follows a narrative plan which Kipling had used before in 'The English Flag', a patriotic poem which he was to use again in several of the frontier poems. The narrative common to the frontier verses is the story of the men who come, suffer, and find their manhood on the boundaries of empire. A coda reminds the reader that their sacrifice, though what empire-building is all about.

in The language of empire