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The Ocean Ocean Empire Britain

shores, sicily, land, sea, north, tidal, history and island

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THE OCEAN : OCEAN EMPIRE : BRITAIN obvious difference between Britain and other lands which we have already considered is that Britain alone is an island, or pair of islands, of a fair size, capable of supporting a considerable population. There are, however, other geographical conditions which must be considered before we can understand the peculiar part she has played in history.

(i) Climate.—Britain, in common with the other ocean lands, possesses an equable climate. The prevailing westerly winds have banked up along the shores of North-Western Europe a half-mile-deep mass of water warmer than is normal in those latitudes. This in winter prevents the freezing of the soil, of the rivers, and of the shore waters. Britain also lies far enough north to be warm rather than hot in summer, and is besides still under the influence of the ocean. Thus work by land and sea is possible all the year round. There is cold in winter to brace, but not to numb ; there is heat in summer, but it does not enervate. Energy may be saved all the time. Further, the westerly winds bring cyclonic storms which drop the rain over the land, grass may grow at all seasons, and there is no great likelihood of drought in summer.

(ii) Relief.—In the island of Great Britain there are two lowlands; the larger in the south-east being the essential part of England, the smaller between the Forth and Clyde being the essential part of In Ireland a lowland extends east and west through the midst of the island. Hence in those lowlands there are possibilities of agriculture over considerable areas. The units are fairly large ; the lowland of England is com parable with the lowland of France, and though there may not be much stability in an age when political units are all small, yet when civilization has advanced far enough to allow of one government controlling the whole lowland, that government may be fairly homo geneous and stable.

(iii) Tides.—Now if we look at a map of North Western Europe showing the depth of the sea, i. e. the relief below sea-level, we shall notice that Britain is set on a ledge which is just covered by water ; if the land were raised some 600 feet Britain would be joined to the Continent, not only across the strait of Dover but across the whole North Sea and English Channel. This has important results. The tidal wave generated in the great Southern Ocean where the water extends com pletely round the globe, sweeps up the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans at a great speed, but causes a rise and fall of only a foot or so. When this wave approaches a shallow shore, its speed is checked but its height increased. If this shallow shore has great width, the tidal rise and fall become considerable; but if the tidal wave approaches a continent whose shores descend steeply to great depths, the height is scarcely increased at all, and there are no tides. For this reason there are

no tides of any size on the shores of Norway and of Spain. There are no 1 tides, obviously, in enclosed seas like the Baltic and Mediterranean, because the oceanic tidal wave cannot enter those seas. It is only on the shores of Britain, and on the opposite shores of the Continent from Hamburg to the head of the Bay of Biscay, that the ebb and flow of the tide twice a day can keep the mouths of rivers free from silt, and can at all times carry boats to and from the sea round curves which sailing vessels find it difficult if not impossible to pass. Thus' Britain shares with Northern France and Western Germany the advantage of having estuaries which can be entered from the open sea. Goods might be brought far inland, and energy might be saved by so doing, espe cially in the Middle Ages when men had forgotten how to make roads, and railways were not yet thought of.

(iv) Position with regard to the Old World.—Britain also shares with the other lands on the north-west of Europe the characteristic of being on the outer fringe of all the world that mattered in the days before America was discovered. Britain was at the end of fll things, and on the road to nowhere. Neither the steppe dwellers from the East nor the Mohammedans from the South ever saw her shores, though the Moors reached Poitiers and the Bulgarians crossed the Rhine. Thus Britain was left alone : she was not like Sicily, an island which seemingly ought to have had a history of its own, for Sicily was set between East and West, between North and South, between Greek and Phoenician, be tween Roman and Carthaginitk, between Christian and Mohammedan, between Norman and Saracen, between Turk and Spaniard; so that the history of Sicily is simply the history of strifes between different powers which met in Sicily on common ground, because Sicily was in the midst of the ancient and mediaeval world round the Mediterranean. Till the ocean leaped to importance with the discoveries of Portuguese and Spaniards, Britain was largely a land apart, and even now Britain does not owe any of her importance to her position in the centre of the land mass. If we con sider the routes that ships take from and to Britain we see that from nearly half a circle—from west round by north to north-east—practically no traffic reaches Britain. Northwards is still the road to and from nowhere. Attack is the less likely to come from that side.

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