The Pax Britannica Trilogy

The Pax Britannica Trilogy: Heaven’s Command; Pax Britannica; Farewell the Trumpets 

  by JAMES MORRIS

This trilogy is not an academic treatise. Morris wrote about “my own empire” in sumptuous language it is a pleasure to read. These volumes are not dry recitations of facts. The Empire of Queen Victoria comes to life and surges with energy. He successfully captures the aesthetics of empire, culling examples from newspapers of the time, explorer’s journals, nabobs memoirs as well as governemnt reports. For me, he captured the essence of empire, and what it meant to ‘be British’ at the time. On one hand “the British Empire was a development agency, distributing technical knowledge around the world, and erecting what economists were later to call the infastructure of industrial progress ..” At the same time “the deepest impulse of Empire was the impulse to be rich.”

The first volume follows the chronology of the getting of Empire from the beginnings of the East India Company through the Indian Mutiny of 1857, to Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897. The second volume examines the heart of the Empire at its zenith, 1897. All the ingredients of the Empire are examined, from the spectacluar Jubilee itself, to pioneers and profit, the attitudes of the British to ‘their subject peoples’, the architecture, parks and gardens, the army and Royal Navy, and finally the omens for the future. The final volume follows the decline of empire from the Jubilee to Churchill’s death in 1965.

For anyone interested in the why and how of many of today’s international problems some part of the explanation can often be traced back to colonial times and the events leading to independence. Take India and the tragic events that lead to the formation of Pakistan; or the ‘straight line on a map’ borders of many African counties; and of Palestine. But this is not the best reason to read Morris’s volumes. The best reason is that one can quickly become immersed in another time; from the minutia (of Patrick Doyle, an Irishman, being knocked unconscious by a Russian for singing God Save the Queen) to the major events such as the Boer War; to cricket matches under the tropical glare. Morris captures the rhythm and beauty, the violence and madness, the eccentricities and dangers of the rise and fall of a grand Empire.