We know from everyday experience that, while we cannot absolutely predict the future, we can make fairly useful guesses which usually turn out to be roughly accurate. If there were no patterns in the past that continued into the future all of the existence of humans and other animals on earth would be impossible. It is on the basis of what we have established about human motivation and what we have seen in the pattern of past events that we make endless decisions, big and small. There are no invariable laws, but there are likelihoods and tendencies.
You and I expect to hear the fish and chip van on a Wednesday evening – and it almost always comes. You couldn’t undertake the smallest action, from eating a meal to playing a game or riding a bicycle, if this predictability based on past patterns recurring, could not be relied upon.
In these Letters I would like to try to describe some of the patterns that I believe I have found. I hope that you will then be able to stand on my shoulders and see further than I have. This is not easy. It is undoubtedly true that, as the poet John Keats wrote, ‘Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced’. It is practically impossible to imagine what love or hunger are like until you have experienced them. Yet I hope that if you have this book beside you as the experiences occur, it may help to put them into context and to make you aware that you are not alone.
Since both you and I, Lily, are British, the focus is often on our particular experience and history. Some may think that there are times when I extol the virtues of British civilization too highly. Yet since I sincerely believe that the story happened in the way in which I tell it, I have left the apparent bias as it is.
Furthermore, I want you Lily to know something about your roots. These can only be explained by drawing attention to some of the oddness of British history. And I believe this is important to others too. For, by chance much of the modern world went through the funnel of British history. A great deal was contributed from all over the world, but by chance Britain became the largest Empire on earth at just the time when the industrial and scientific revolutions were shaping our modern world. This has left its stamp not only on America, Africa, Australia and India, but on many other places.