Poets make lousy historians. This is because poetry and history, as Schopenhauer aphorised, are antithetical. Poets are surpassed only by politicians in their exploitative relationship with history. Politicians are keenly aware that persuading the people to vote for them is invariably a matter of persuading them to adopt a particular analysis of the past. Consequently, they do not hesitate fraudulently to manipulate the past to their own advantage. Anyone who still believes in a disinterested version of history is therefore unlikely to find it in The Faber Book of English History in Verse, edited by the Secretary of State for Education and Science.
The Secretary of State prefaces his selection with a strange remark. This history, he says, is concerned only with 'the history of the True-Born Englishman'. He identifies this creature (after Defoe) as the offspring of 'the eager rapes and furious lusts' of Britons, Scots, Romans, Danes and Saxons. What is