August 17 – Happy Birthday, Wilfred Scawen Blunt

Posted on August 17, 2015

Today's famous birthday is an English writer. He is most famous for his poetry, but I noticed him mostly for being ahead of his time in his views about people and politics.

Blunt was born in England in 1840, and he died in 1922. Another British writer, far more famous than Blunt, was Rudyard Kipling, who was born in British India in 1865 and died in 1935. Kipling (who wrote The Jungle Book) apparently had a racist attitude towards people of color; at the very least he was condescending toward people of India an other non-Europeans. That means that he looked down on them as lesser peoples, less civilized, less mature, maybe even less intelligent.

One way we know about Kipling's racism is his poem “The White Man's Burden.” This poem is seen by most readers and critics to be a command to white people to colonize other nations around the world – not for glory or riches, but for the benefit of the non-white people who live in those nations.

In other words, Kipling thought that non-white peoples were more "primitive," less "civilized," and needed white people's help to become better at being human.

Major yick, huh?

Here's an example of Kipling's racism: in the poem he referred to the Philippines, which was colonized by Spain and then transferred to the United States as the spoils of war, saying that the Filipinos were “sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.”

Horrible, racist stuff! Of course, we can say that Kipling was a product of his time, and we cannot judge him by today's standards...

...And that is partly true, but I am happy to report that Kipling's poem “The White Man's Burden” was controversial even in his time. When the poem was first published in 1899, many people argued against it. One of the most famous writers who disliked Kipling's message was Mark Twain, who wrote that if the U.S. took over the Philippines rather than allowing the nation to have self-rule, the American flag should be changed to black and white stripes, with the field of stars being replaced by a skull and crossbones.

Wilfrid Blunt also argued against Kipling's idea. Blunt was a bit older than Kipling, and like Kipling was British, but he had more enlightened views about people of color and was against imperialism. He wrote in a poem, in response to Kipling's poem, that “The white man's burden, Lord, is the burden of his cash.”

In the 1880s Blunt worked with a movement called “Egypt for the Egyptians,” meeting with and understanding the viewpoints of the Egyptians, and relaying the information to authorities of the British empire. (Unfortunately, his efforts were ignored.)

It was during his time in Egypt that some British army officers decided to have a foxhunt. A pack of fox hounds were shipped to Cairo, Egypt, and the British officers (NOT in uniform) started to hunt an Egyptian fox. The fox was chased into the garden of Blunt's house, where there was a stud farm with valuable Arabian horses.

Now, Blunt himself was away. His servants had general orders to prevent trespassing or, of course, theft, and when the officers followed the fox onto Blunt's land, Blunt's staff challenged them as trespassers and turned them away with violence.

Three members of Blunt's staff were arrested for assaulting British officers.

Of course, Blunt's servants were Egyptians. But Blunt himself was British, and rich, and an anti-imperialist. So he vigorously went to bat for his staff members, writing letters to British authorities, the press, and even Parliament.

An entire book was
written on the Blunt - fox
hunt incident!
Blunt also wrote, not just about his specific incident, but about the wrongs done to native property owners because the lack of respect that British officers had for their property rights or even their lives. He made his complaints much wider than just his own problem.

And apparently he caused quite a bit of embarrassment.

I read that, as a result of this incident, British officers in the various colonies were warned to take “all possible care” to avoid trespassing on “inclosed or cultivated property.”

I don't know how well this new policy was followed or enforced, but I imagine that more good might have come out of this single incident than most of us are able to achieve in a lifetime! Good on you, Blunt!

Also on this date:

Teej Festival


Anniversary of the patenting of a wrench

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