Britain. Past and Present tells the story of the national growth from the day of the earliest inhabitants of the British Isles down to the present day. It is an introduction to the study of British civilisation and culture seeking to emphasize those themes and ideas that continue to fashion the national culture. The structure as well as the features of the book - the essay topics and questions, the text, the index, the illustrations, the guide for students - are all intended to stimulate interest, strengthen learning and help discover the fascination and magnificence of the British past.
It is our strong belief that only a historical narrative can provide a lively comprehension of the past. The present study is a res gestae, with a difference: while the account of economic, social and political events provides the red thread', the emphasis has been on the developments in the cultural field in particular. That is why architecture, painting, music and literature figure rather prominently in it. We have tried to identify the major turning points, the lines of force, as well the transformations of taste, in close relation with the movements representative of each period. A given civilisation is always in search for its proper representation. Britain has made a significant contribution to all these fields of human creativity, although this aspect is often underrated.
Essentially, history means people, their acts and their ceaseless changes. The picture we offer is, for that reason, partly a narrative of events, partly a description of situations, a presentation of motives, and occasionally, an analysis of characters. Were history restricted to facts and data only, without such side forays, we would be unable to learn anything genuine about the world, the functioning of institutions and gain insight into other modes of living or ways of thinking, through the sort of vicarious experience that the historical explanation presupposes.
Our aim has been to make the account as coherent and intelligible as possible, so that everything be bound up with the rest. Although the major chapters of the book can be read independently, we have done our best to maintain the proper continuity of the narrative throughout.