I’m pretty commonwealthy for an American. I’m a Victorianist, not an Americanist. I get excited about transatlantic interactions like the meeting between Whitman and Wilde in 1882. I even secretly consider Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, my queen as much as my little papist heart can handle.
And I have to say, there might not be anything more English that the 4th of July.
What could I possibly mean by that?
Of course there’s the Lockean sources of Jefferson’s thought and all that, but I want to go back even further.
Let’s go all the way back to the nation’s mythic Trojan beginnings (WARNING: fictional, non-historical document about to follow).
In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britannia, the Trojans are imagined as the first inhabitants of the island, besides those pesky giants, of course. The etymologies of Britain and Breton are even traced through this mythic past to the name of their leader, Brutus (no, not that Brutus).
Where this fits in with Americanism is the whole reason why Brutus and his Trojans landed on the coast of Totnes was because of a desire for liberty. As Brutus related it to their Greek rulers, the Trojans have
betaken themselves to the protection of the woods for they have preferred living after the manner of wild beasts, upon flesh and herbs, with the enjoyment of liberty, to continuing longer in the greatest luxury under the yoke of slavery.
This same desire for liberty pervades the Arthurian mythos that follows from the mythic Trojan origins. Tennyson sums it up in the mouth of Sir Gareth who says,
who swept the dust of ruined Rome
From off the threshold of the realm, and crushed
The Idolators, and made the people free?
Who should be King save him who makes us free?”
The king who makes us free should be king. Well put Sir Gareth!
As a commonwealthy American, it seems to me that the event celebrated today is ideologically very English.