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"Casting bullets from the family silver"

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We are back from work and travels. Looking round us, we found, in an essay written by Isak Dinesen, something of what we feel about England. Shortly after the end of the Second World War, the author of Out of Africa travelled to England:

I flew from Copenhagen to London in perfectly calm weather through a supernatural interplay of blue and violet colours, with an Alpine landscape of white clouds beneath me. The plane moved as if we were speeding down a highway in the air. . .

Suddenly the clouds parted and far below us was green land: England. It was still here.

I was travelling with my brother who, in the First World War, served as a private in the English army. I turned to him and said, 'It's England!' He laughed, and when I saw his face I wanted to ask him, 'Why do you look that way?' But he, at the same moment, looked at me, and said, 'Why do you look that way?'

As we flew on over the landscape with great groups of trees, church-towers, and houses beneath us, I asked him, 'What does this reunion with England mean to you? What does England signify?' He thought for a moment and replied, 'Self-restraint'. As for myself if I had to find a single word for what England signfies to me, it would have to be 'freedom'. Not merely in a political sense, but freedom to be a human being, to have leeway, to have a margin in life - freedom of movement, even where severe laws and rules must be kept. Would I now, I considered, seeing the country again, find this condition changed?

We have all read and heard about the ruins in England. I shall not describe them here. They are far more extensive than I had thought. . .

. . .Under a profound impression of the proximity of the ages, of the unity of past and future, I recall an old Scandinavian proverb: When there is a really dangerous animal on the prowl and the usual weapons fail, then one must cast bullets of the family silver, that is, of silver which has been inherited from father to son and grandson [and from grandmother to daughter and granddaughter]. There have been dangerous animals on the prowl here; some of them are still about. It is time we go to our chests and see what we have left in the way of family silver. . .From 'Reunion with England', Daguerreotypes

There is no doubt that England faces grave dangers today. The family silver does not have to be cast into bullets. Its worth needs to be known, and used, not thrown away.

It will seem immodest to say so, but the family silver is described in our book Share the Inheritance (see sidebar).

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