David Bouchier

Courtesy of Madeline Michelini

On this date in 1423, the English won a great victory over the French in the Hundred Years’ War. I bet you didn’t know that, and I bet you don’t care either. Every day is an anniversary of something or someone, and most of them are infinitely forgettable, and forgotten. We hang on to dates like the Fourth of July because they have holidays attached, but the rest get lost in the smog of history. This is a pity because, when we dip into the vast ocean of unremembered anniversaries, we never know what we may find.

Wikimedia Commons

One of the most striking things about traveling in Europe is the constant presence of relics from older civilizations. They give us a time perspective, a reminder that we are just one civilization among many and that, in the vast timetable of history, we have been around for about five minutes, and will probably be gone in another five minutes.

Jane Austen died almost exactly two hundred years ago, on July 18, 1817. The anniversary bringing a small flood of new literary biographies. She wrote about a world that was, psychologically and socially a million miles away from present-day Britain or America, in the kind of English that nobody speaks or writes any more. The massive popularity of Jane Austen's work in the twenty-first century is therefore something of a mystery. Movies and TV specials have something to do with it, of course.

Thomas Bartherote / Creative Commons

There are still forty-four monarchies in the world, including those in Britain and Saudi Arabia, and I would be willing to bet that none of those kings or queens have any great affection for the month of July. Historically, two of the most devastating attacks on the principle of monarchy happened in July. The British King George III was cruelly rejected by his American colonists on July the 4, 1776, and in France, July 14th, Bastille Day, commemorates the revolution that dethroned King Louis XVI.

Courtesy of Pixabay

History is such a confusing maze of characters and events that we cling to certain symbolic dates. The Fourth of July is one such date. Everybody knows that the Fourth of July commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Like so much of our historical knowledge, this is wrong. It is true that an unfortunate misunderstanding between Britain and her American colonies did blow up around that time. But the Declaration was not signed until July 19th.