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Scouting for Empire

Seventy-five years ago the Scout movement started in Britain, explains Victor Bailey, an authentic expression of the Edwardian age of Empire.

'There suddenly appeared in my world – I saw them first, I think, in 1908 – a new sort of little boy, a most agreeable development of the slouching, cunning, cigarette-smoking, town-bred youngster, a small boy in a khaki hat, and with bare knees and athletic bearing, earnestly engaged in wholesome and invigorating games up to and occasionally a little beyond his strength – the Boy Scout. I liked the Boy Scout, and I find it difficult to express how much it mattered to me, with my growing bias m favour of deliberate national training, that Liberalism hadn't been able to produce, and had indeed never attempted to produce anything of this kind.' H.G. Wells, The New Machiavelli (1911)

H.G. Wells’ The New Machiavelli faithfully recreates the social and political milieu into which the Boy Scout movement was born. The fictional narrator, Richard Remington, MP, is gradually abandoning the Liberal Party in favour of 'imperial patriotism', a viewpoint which, for all its vulgar ballyhoo, venerates 'social efficiency', a 'well-fed, and well-exercised population in uniform', and national preparedness for the day of reckoning with Germany. As the Year of the Scout gets under way, in commemoration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the start of the Movement in Britain, we could do worse than to remind our selves of the extent to which scouting was an authentic cultural expression of the pervasive Edwardian anxieties for the future of the British Empire.

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