Ian Hislop investigates Britain's emotional history. He charts how and why the stiff upper lip emerged in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
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In Britain today many people still feel
they have one quality in common...
I always feel terribly uncomfortable
when there are vast outpourings of emotion.
In certain situations,
like in a queue, you might want to get a bit flustered but you don't.
You just take your time, try and be patient and wait your turn.
If something doesn't go quite right, you don't let it get you down.
You know, so you've got a stiff upper lip.
And do you think that's a very British thing?
Absolutely! Yes, I do!
For many Britons the stiff upper lip remains a badge of national pride.
Impressive but often eccentric examples festoon our history.
And they've become the stuff of legend.
At the bloody climax of the Battle of Waterloo
Lord Uxbridge was hit by a cannon ball.
He famously turned to the Duke of Wellington, who was next to him
and said, "By God, sir, I've lost my leg,"
and the Duke of Wellington replied, "By God! So you have."
Then there was Captain Oates,
Scott's companion on their ill-fated expedition to the South Pole.
Knowing that he was holding the others back,
he stepped out of the tent, into the snow and certain death
simply saying, "I'm just going outside and may I be some time."
And the one thing every schoolchild used to know was that
Sir Francis Drake, when the Spanish Armada was steaming up the Channel,
was playing a game of bowls.
He said he would finish his game and then he would deal with the Spanish.
I find all of this very appealing,
even though I know that these stories aren't entirely true.
And I also know that understated resilience
hasn't always been part of our cultural DNA.
In fact, the evolution of the stiff upper lip was complex,
surprising and often contradictory,
dictated by religion, war, philosophy, fashion
and, above all, by the changing nature of British society itself.
In this series I'm going to explore what the British were like
before their lips stiffened...
..who made them firm up...
..and how they became known for their stoicism...
I'm going to look at where the stiff upper lip led Britain
and what happened to it throughout the 20th century.
Whether it thrived...
When I'm in it, Fletcher, I absorb it...with a stiff upper lip!
Well, you've got to when you're in it up to 'ere, ain't you?
..or whether it was rejected.
Diana did give us that permission as a nation to come together
and show your emotion.
I am not a royalist and I was weeping
and I think, "Why am I weeping?"
And I'll ask if the stiff upper lip still has a role today.
Once upon a time, a long time ago,
the British defied simple stereotyping,
and there was no "national character".
Instead, the English, the Welsh and the Scots
were said to possess a hotchpotch of attributes.
And emotional restraint was certainly not one of them.
It wasn't reserve that the English were known for -
it was exuberance, particularly the women.
The Dutch scholar Erasmus paid a visit to London in 1499
and wrote home delightedly -
"Wherever you come you are received with a kiss by all.
"When you take your leave, you are dismissed with kisses.
"You return, kisses are repeated.
"They come to visit you, kisses again.
"They leave, you kiss them all round.
"Should they meet you anywhere, kisses in abundance.
"You cannot move without kisses!"
The whole thing sounds like a medieval luvvies' paradise.
Foreigners, even Italians coming to Elizabethan London, for example,
remarked upon how emotional
the English were,
and how easily provoked - not only by drink,
of course, we were provoked by drink -
into displays of emotion,
but how we fought, how we chased women, how we were out of control.
A hundred years later, at the start of the 18th century,
little had changed -
reserve was still not yet recognised as an English trait.
In fact, in a poem about his countrymen, the writer Daniel Defoe
described some very different characteristics...
"often in the wrong.
"Hard to be pleased at all, and never long.
"This makes them so ill-natured and uncivil
"that all men think an Englishman the devil."
Which is quite harsh!
Defoe went on to write the novel Robinson Crusoe.
The story made a hero of a man who,
when shipwrecked on a desert island, keeps calm and carries on.
A 20th century critic described Robinson Crusoe
as the epic of the stiff upper lip
and identified Crusoe as the archetypal Englishman.
But it was only long after the concept had established itself
in the popular consciousness that anyone actually spotted this.
At the time of publication
no-one had any idea
that this odd, extraordinary, resilient, stoical survivor
would come to represent the national ideal.
Back in the 18th century
when Robinson Crusoe was written,
many Britons were starting a love affair,
not with stoicism, but with feeling.
This was the era when an urban and urbane society
that we'd recognise today started to emerge.
And here, everyone who was anyone
aspired to be in touch with their emotions.
Far from having a stiff upper lip, a cultural obsession sprung up
with all things "sentimental".
Today the word "sentimental" is usually used as an insult -
applied to people who go into raptures
about pictures of baby animals
or those who weep copiously over soppy old films on television.
But in the 18th century, it was a term of approval
and one becoming increasingly fashionable.
The Oxford English Dictionary cites first usage in 1749
and it's Lady Bradshaigh writing to a friend.
"What, in your opinion, is the meaning of the word 'sentimental'?
"Everything clever and agreeable is comprehended in that word.
"I am frequently astonished to hear such a one is a 'sentimental' man,
"we were a 'sentimental' party,
"I have been taking a 'sentimental' walk."
There was something known as the cult of sensibility
in the 18th century, which refers to this movement,
not just in Britain but, in fact, throughout Europe
of celebrating feeling and sentiment.
What it centres around is that in shared feelings of sympathy
with our fellow men and women,
there's something of great importance
to understanding human nature
and, as a result, understanding society and politics as well.
But those who embraced the cult of sensibility
weren't always thinking of others.
As British society became more sophisticated
and social mobility increased,
some people cynically recognised that displaying how deeply you felt
was also a way of exhibiting something else.
It was desirable to demonstrate sensibility
because it showed that you had, in a way, refined yourself.
Because although everybody might have sensibility
as a sort of potential within them,
the best people sort of practised and polished their sensibility.
And it may seem peculiar to us,
but they even did this by sort of reading works of fiction.
In the 18th century the modern novel first took shape.
And in Britain, its growth in popularity was directly linked
to the new vogue for sensibility.
One of the most influential novels of the century
was Clarissa by Samuel Richardson, published in 1751.
Entirely told through letters, it runs to over a million words
and is seven volumes long.
Clarissa takes a magnifying glass
to the feelings of its virtuous heroine and her dastardly pursuer.
Its 18th century readers lapped up
the protagonists' "exquisite agonies" -
all the way to their lonely graves.
Never before had "feeling" been so fashionable,
and not just for women but for men as well.
A Mr Thomas Edwards wrote Richardson a fan letter -
"I have this day been weeping over the seventh volume of Clarissa,
"as if I had attended her dying bed,
"and assisted at her funeral procession.
"O may my latter end be like hers!"
The ideal man was increasingly defined
as one in touch with his emotions.
Soon novels like Laurence Sterne's A Sentimental Journey
and Henry Mackenzie's The Man of Feeling
cast the sensitive man as a hero in his own right.
Meanwhile, this new "touchy-feely" culture
was softening up the art world, too.
In the 1760s, British society painter Johann Zoffany
rejected the old era's self-important style of portraiture
and instead showed the country's finest families
in new "sentimental" situations...
..worlds away from what would become the stiff upper lip.
This is Zoffany's portrait of Sir Lawrence Dundas and his grandson.
It's a boy. At the time the custom was
to dress boys and girls identically
so it's confusing for us but obviously not for them.
But the point of the picture is the informality.
In previous generations a man like Sir Lawrence
might well have gone for a more pompous presentation of himself.
He's an important man, he's rich, he's made a lot of money,
he's paymaster general to the army,
but here, in the middle of all his business,
he's got time to break away to talk to his grandson
and the affection between them
with the boy dragging his arm appears to be very genuine.
People had obviously loved
their children and grandchildren before in history
but public portraiture hadn't tended to focus on that.
This is a very intimate picture.
What Dundas is showing is that he's not
some heartless, calculating money-making machine.
Look, he's a really nice guy.
So, in fashionable Georgian society
being a family man was the key to fulfilment.
And the ability to be affectionate was crucial.
But that didn't mean self-control could be abandoned.
Although many men were guided by the cult of feelings,
they were also influenced by another, sometimes contrary,
18th-century fashion - politeness.
And it would be politeness that prepared the ground
for the stiff upper lip.
Politeness is an 18th century ethos, ideal,
which is spread quite widely through aspirational classes.
For example, to be polite
would be to be able to show feeling and response to the theatre,
but not to go over the top -
to show that balance, that moderation which was the key to politeness,
to shed a quiet tear, but to retain one's manly composure.
But for many, walking the line between open affection and restraint
was quite a challenge,
and for no-one more than an ambitious young Scot, James Boswell.
It's difficult to find out what people were feeling 250 years ago -
only a relative minority could write
and so it's hard to gauge the emotional life of the majority.
But we know a lot about what Boswell was thinking and feeling.
He became famous as the biographer of Dr Johnson,
the writer and lexicographer,
but Boswell also kept an amazingly frank journal
of his time in London, which was only discovered in the 20th century.
In it he reveals his attempts to keep the balance
between keeping in his coarser feelings
and, in the sake of politeness,
letting out his more refined opinions.
Boswell was 22 years old when in 1762 he arrived in London.
He lodged in Westminster on Downing Street,
then a genteel address by fashionable St James's Park.
He aimed to secure a commission in the Guards' regiment,
so he could join the capital's smart set.
To do so, mastering politeness would be vital.
But Boswell was suffering from a distinct disadvantage -
The Scottish had a reputation for being far more rowdy
than their English counterparts.
Boswell was very keen to shake this off,
so when he met up with some compatriots in London
he was scathing about them.
He wrote, "The Scotch tones
"and rough and roaring freedom of manners which I heard today
"disgusted me a good deal."
"I am always resolving to study propriety of conduct.
"But I never persist with any steadiness.
"I hope, however, to attain it."
Unfortunately for Boswell, this was far easier said than done.
"5th January 1763. I was very hearty at dinner, but was too ridiculous.
"This is what I ought most to guard against.
"People in company applaud a man for it very much,
"but behind his back hold him very cheap."
Oh, God, they don't, do they?
On the other hand, Boswell was eager to reveal his feelings -
when he was sure that they were polite.
On 12th May he attended a performance of King Lear
and boasted, "I shed an abundance of tears."
Nevertheless, the aspiring Boswell was often happier
when forsaking polite society for a rowdier, more vulgar, milieu.
In June, for instance,
he chose to celebrate King George III's birthday
by...letting himself go.
After dinner, Boswell headed here to St James's.
By his own admission, he decided to behave like a complete blackguard -
"a coarse and foul-mouthed scoundrel".
So the first thing he did was pick up a prostitute.
It was night. There were plenty around.
He says, "I agreed with her for sixpence,
"went to the bottom of the park arm in arm
"and dipped my machine in the canal
"and performed most manfully."
Three bowls of punch, a public brawl with some soldiers
and two more prostitutes later,
he eventually returned home
where he described himself as "much fatigued".
To his great regret, Boswell's time in London soon came to an end.
He'd failed to get his commission in the Guards
and now, under pressure from his father,
planned to train for the Scottish bar.
But his final "note to self" makes clear
he wasn't giving up on his quest for politeness.
He writes, "Be alert all along, yet composed.
"Speak little, make no intimates.
"See to attain a fixed and constant character, to have dignity.
It's not yet a clear-cut case of the stiff upper lip
but it's an important staging post along the way.
Boswell realises that in his modern, evolving, civic society,
a certain emotional consistency is needed,
even if that means putting up a public facade.
Sadly, self-restraint eluded Boswell to the end.
He died at the age of 54,
his body worn down by a lifetime of heavy drinking
and at least 17 bouts of venereal disease.
In the 18th century, not unlike today,
British men were attempting to navigate their way
between manliness, emotion and restraint.
Nowadays this dilemma fills magazine columns,
media discussions and counselling sessions.
Back then it was the province of philosophers.
In the 17th century
John Locke had argued that tears in boys were a fault.
Instead they, required brawniness and insensibility of mind.
But 50 years later, Adam Smith began to insist the virtuous man
must be sensitive and capable of deep feeling.
And then there was Samuel Johnson who, in his famous dictionary,
was still defining "manly"
as "firm, brave, stout, undaunted, undismayed".
What was a man to do?
As for women, they faced an entirely different challenge -
It was widely believed that a woman was not mistress of her emotions,
but instead, a slave to her feelings.
One woman powerfully refuted such a patronising view of her sex -
In 1792 this novelist, historian and thinker
produced the first book on female liberation -
A Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman.
In this ground-breaking polemic
Wollstonecraft argues that women are every bit as capable
of rational behaviour as men.
So she urges stoicism.
"Beware, then, my friends of suffering the heart to be moved
"by every trivial incident.
"The reed is shaken by a breeze, and annually dies,
"but the oak stands firm and for ages braves the storm."
And that metaphor of the oak is deliberately provocative.
It's a classic symbol of English manhood.
Yet she's using it and suggesting that constancy and resilience
could be displayed by a woman just as much as by a man.
This must have been a very shocking sentiment
for some of her male readers -
exactly what they'd expect from an excitable and silly woman!
To Wollstonecraft, the great enemy is femininity,
and femininity is something you're taught,
and being very, very emotional
and being overpowered by your feelings is one aspect of it.
What she says is that unfortunately
women have been taught to be irrational,
they're enslaved to feeling
and they should be liberated to be rational
and they should stop flopping around on sofas,
they should stop reading novels - gosh!
It was a bold, controversial argument.
But before any real feminist movement could get going
Wollstonecraft's case was tragically undermined - by her own example.
In 1797 Mary died, leaving behind a new-born baby
and a grieving husband, the philosopher William Godwin,
who decided in her memory he would write an account of her life.
But alongside his declarations of love and admiration,
he included a lot of detail about Mary's life before she was married -
including less well-known details
about her passionate and chequered love life.
Godwin disclosed that despite Wollstonecraft's insistence
that women's heads should rule their hearts
she hadn't always practiced what she'd preached.
At 33 she'd gone to Paris, fleeing a thwarted love affair.
But this turned out to be a case of going out of the frying pan
and straight into the fire.
Here Wollstonecraft met a dashing American army officer turned business man -
Captain Gilbert Imlay.
And though no portrait exists to convey his charms to us,
apparently they weren't lost on her.
Godwin later tries to justify Mary's behaviour.
But he doesn't make a very good job of it - he writes,
"She did not give full play to her judgment
"and, gratified with the first gleam of promised relief,
"she ventured not to examine with too curious a research
"into the soundness of her expectation."
In other words, she fancied him,
she didn't think about it too much and she went for it.
As it turned out,
Imlay was not a man for whom it was worth betraying one's principles,
but by the time Wollstonecraft realised he was unfaithful to her,
they had a young daughter.
Back once more in London with a freshly broken heart,
Wollstonecraft overdosed on opium.
She was saved, only to attempt suicide a second time.
She rowed here to Putney, flung herself off the bridge,
but was spotted and dragged out alive.
Sex and attempted suicide made a toxic combination -
a discreet affair was one thing, but a violent passion
entered into with no respect for either reputation -
or, evidently, for life - was quite another.
For many men and women who wanted to take seriously the argument
she'd put forward in A Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman
this was incredibly disappointing
because everything she'd written was now contaminated.
As it happened, Wollstonecraft had let the side down
at the worst possible moment.
By the 1790s, the British were coming to value cool reason
and calm self-control more highly than ever before.
A desire for social cohesion
had been the driving force behind politeness,
but it was fear of complete social breakdown
which provoked the decisive step towards the stiff upper lip.
On 14th July 1789 in Paris, the mob stormed the Bastille prison.
To many it seemed to signal the inevitable end of the Ancien Regime.
Not, however, to the British ambassador to France -
His Excellency The Most Noble Duke Of Dorset.
The Duke decided he knew exactly
what would keep France from social meltdown -
an arena where passion and conflict could be played out
within understood boundaries.
Yes, the answer to the French Revolution was clearly cricket!
In Britain at that time,
the game was played by aristocrats and commoners together
and widely enjoyed by all ranks of society.
So, the Duke reasoned, this was an example of the social hierarchy
performing perfectly well.
So if it could do so in Britain, why not in France?
Not coincidentally, the Duke was a keen cricketer...
..who had in the past even put up stumps on the Champs Elysees.
So Dorset contacted his old friend, the Earl of Tankerville,
who agreed to bring a national goodwill eleven to Paris.
This included Tankerville's butler, one of Surrey's finest all-rounders,
and Tankerville's gardener, the legendary "Lumpy" Stevens,
who was probably the best bowler in England,
and famous for his wily variations of pace and length.
Unfortunately for Tankerville and the team,
just as they were preparing to sail from Dover
they ran into Dorset coming back the other way, fleeing from Paris.
With great regret, the tour was called off.
Conditions in the French capital were becoming too heated
for even a good game of cricket to cool down.
Revolting Paris completely terrified London society.
Its fears were brought to life by Johann Zoffany
who now abandoned his modern, nuanced depictions of human feelings
and reached instead for age-old stereotypes.
This painting by Zoffany
is a nightmare scene from the French Revolution.
It's August 10th 1792 when the mob raided the King's cellar in Paris
and murdered all the guards outside
and the bridge is the visual metaphor for the mouth of hell,
which is literally belching out this murderous, hysterical mob.
They've gone wild.
And in the picture, the normal order of what is expected in society
is turned on its head - so the aristocrats are being murdered,
their heads are being put on stakes...
There are also black people,
which is always worrying to a white male elite,
and the women in the picture are behaving particularly shockingly.
They're actively involved
in murdering and stealing from this aristocratic woman here.
This woman is trading the uniform of the dead soldiers
to a convenient Jew.
So all the prejudices and suspicions of 18th-century establishments
are brought out, and Zoffany is presenting an explicit link
between unbridled, excessive emotion and radical politics.
In the face of the turmoil across the Channel,
British culture was about to change.
Once so fashionable,
sentimentality began to be seen as dangerously subversive.
Both the French Revolution and the cult of sensibility
were based on this same big idea
that we human beings are all bonded together
through shared powers of feeling and sympathy
and that, rather than any other natural or inherited order,
should be the basis of all society.
And when people in Britain saw how terribly wrong,
from their point of view, the French Revolution had gone,
the cult of sensibility became very rapidly discredited,
and it became seen as an alien, dangerous
and, worst of all, French phenomenon.
By the end of the 1790s, British fears were intensifying
because of France's new leader - Napoleon Bonaparte.
Napoleon didn't just have plans for a revolutionary France -
he wanted a global empire.
Given Britain's own imperial aspirations,
the course seemed set for a full-scale clash of civilizations.
This forceful, self-confident leader personified a new age for Europe.
And so, also across the Channel,
a more monolithic idea of national identity emerged.
Great Britain began to come together as never before
in reaction to a common enemy
and it was as both a military and a moral response
to this external threat that the upper lip started to stiffen.
As Britain took on Napoleon on land and at sea,
a specific type of hero emerged -
a fighting man who could be brave and resolute,
but also at ease with his feelings.
No-one exemplified this better
than the first national icon of the 19th century...
..Admiral Horatio Nelson.
Nelson stands on the dividing line between an earlier era,
where displays of emotion are a badge of pride,
and a later period, where exhibitions of feeling
can call into question the strength of a man's character.
In 1801 the Gentleman's Magazine said,
"He had the brilliant qualities of a hero,
"which included a feeling and generous heart.
"He was in every sense a Romantic hero."
Later heroes of the Empire would be praised for their dogged steadiness,
but when Nelson rose from relative obscurity to national glory,
buccaneering adventurers best represented British interests
and it was an advantage to be a brilliant maverick.
He really is the greatest Englishman,
there's no question about it, in lots of ways,
because he stopped Napoleon in his tracks,
he undoubtedly changed the entire course of European history
by the victory at Trafalgar,
but he's a very interesting figure actually
because he was a man of feeling,
and he didn't see anything manly about concealing the fact
that he was small, he was rather frail,
he was subject to sea-sickness all his life
and he was a person of extraordinary, strong susceptibility
to feminine charm, shall I put it that way?
I mean, he was a lady's man.
He was a person who didn't conceal his emotions
and didn't feel he needed to put a lid on them.
Nelson was quite literally a legend in his own lifetime.
But it was his untimely death
that confirmed his place in the people's hearts.
In 1805 aboard the flagship Victory at Trafalgar,
he insisted on commanding the fleet from the quarter deck -
where he was an easy target for an enemy sharpshooter.
We all know what happened just before the end.
Nelson turned to the captain of the ship, Captain Hardy,
and said, "Kiss Me, Hardy."
He then said, "Thank God, I have done my duty."
Now, for future British heroes
the love of friends and the love of country
would not sit together quite so happily.
In fact the Victorians were so embarrassed
by Nelson's last appeal to Hardy that they changed the story.
They decided he was rambling in Turkish and he said, "Kismet,"
which means fate, "Kismet, Hardy!"
There was a man giving in to what his fate held in store.
That was much more stoical.
But back at the beginning of the 19th century,
Nelson's last-minute request
for a public display of affection from an old friend
made him MORE of a hero.
When news reached Britain of Nelson's death,
the public were devastated at the loss of their hero.
And they exhibited their devotion to his memory
by buying a range of tasteful products.
This is a bulb holder
where you put your bulbs in and up come the flowers
so you commemorate his victory with a nice display of tulips.
This is a bowl with a picture of Nelson right at the bottom of it
and a little poem saying, "'Show me my county's foes,' the hero cried.
"He saw, he fought, he conquered and he died,"
which I don't think is MEANT to be comic.
And this is the most bizarre of all. This is a scent container
with a picture of Nelson in pink on the side.
And it's heart shaped.
I mean - he's selling perfume.
Might as well be David Beckham!
As plans were drawn up for Nelson's elaborate funeral
the authorities soon grew increasingly anxious
about the sheer scale of public mourning.
And their fears looked like they might be justified
when his body was laid in state at the Painted Hall in Greenwich.
You might imagine the scene here was a model of British decorum -
the public waiting patiently, queuing in an orderly fashion
and then paying their respects soberly.
But not a bit of it -
when they opened the gates on the first day there was chaos -
10,000 people pushed in in a huge jostling, heaving, mass.
The Times said, "It was a scene of confusion beyond description."
But the mood changed, however, when sailors who had served with Nelson
arrived to honour their late commander.
By contrast to the crowd,
their measured behaviour was widely praised.
The Naval Chronicle described the sight.
"They eyed the coffin with melancholy respect and admiration,
"while the manly tears glistened in their eyes,
"and stole reluctant down their weather-beaten cheeks."
The tide may have been turning against displays of public affection
since the French Revolution, but this was clearly still acceptable.
The tears were manly, they were controlled
and they were an expression of patriotism.
British men could still weep, just about,
provided it was for the right reason.
But by now these days of public emoting were numbered.
Overseas, British forces were distinguishing themselves
by a particular brand of valour,
characterised by a combination of control, force and perseverance.
One French writer
compared the behaviour of his country's troops in combat
to those of the British and found the former sadly lacking.
"We lack the cool and reflective courage, that calm amidst danger,
"that patience which surmounts difficulties
"and stands proof against obstacles."
And that is how more and more
the British wanted themselves to be seen
and how they began to see themselves.
This was starkly illustrated by the shift in national symbols.
Until the 1770s,
England was embodied by both the impetuous fighting cockerel...
..and the pugnacious bulldog.
-But by the 1800s, the dog was champion.
So Britain was to be more dogged and less...cocky.
In civil society, a new code of conduct was emerging
which prized constraint and control.
One writer captured this better than any other.
From her home here in Chawton, Hampshire,
Jane Austen again and again explored the theme
of how far one should express one's emotions.
And I'm not so sure what she'd think of today's effusive merchandising.
Jane Austen mug, Jane Austen tea towel
and "I Heart Mr Darcy" bookmark...
-He does look remarkably like Colin Firth, doesn't he?
Whatever he may have looked like,
Austin created a new sort of romantic hero.
And the unlikely defining characteristics
of this English heart-throb were restraint and reserve.
Austen gives an example of the nascent stiff upper lip
in her novel Emma in a succinct exchange
between the hero, Mr Knightley, and his brother, John.
The two brothers meet after a long absence -
do they fall on each other in an emotional, fond bear-hug?
"'How d'ye do, George?' and 'John, how are you?'
"Succeeded in the true English style,
"burying under a calmness that seemed all but indifference,
"the real attachment which would had led either of them,
"if requisite, to do every thing for the good of the other."
Austen then observes the two brothers talking earnestly
about important local issues like fencing and drainage.
I spoke to Louise West, curator of Jane Austen's House Museum
about how Austen reflected the change in national temperament.
We began with the novel
which most explicitly endorsed emotional discretion.
So "Sense" is Elinor because she has common sense,
and "Sensibility" is Marianne,
and for sensibility you can read sensitivity, really -
So, of the two sisters, one is romantic and head-in-the-air
-and the other one is sensible.
-Is grounded, yes.
The most guarded people in Jane Austen's novels
are actually very often the ones with the deepest feelings
and so the genuine feelings,
and I think Marianne is the one exception, actually.
In almost every other case, people who express themselves,
particularly about the opposite sex, in a very open way,
a very excited, over-the-top way, they tend to be superficial.
So the heroes, similarly, the ones who gush,
the ones who open up and tell you too much...
-Don't trust them.
-..they're not to be trusted.
-Don't trust them.
I mean, that's what's so lovely, actually, in these books -
that by the end, the very reserved hero,
the one who hasn't, sort of, said too much,
finally opens his heart to the heroine,
like Mr Knightley in Emma says, "If I loved you less I could say more,"
and that's a wonderful description of what Jane Austen is on about.
Austen excels at conveying the minutiae
of domestic and social life in Georgian England.
And despite the fact that two of her brothers served in the navy,
you'd barely know that there was a war on
and that the nation's survival was threatened.
There's a quote here from one of Austen's great fans,
and it's from Winston Churchill and it's very telling,
though not, I think, in the way he meant it.
He's writing in 1943 when he's been ill with pneumonia
and he's recuperating and he does that by reading Pride and Prejudice.
He writes, "What calm lives they had those people.
"No worries about the French Revolution
"or the crashing struggle of the Napoleonic wars.
"Only manners controlling natural passion so far as they could,"
and I think that's exactly what Austen's writing about -
manners controlling this passion,
but that in itself is a reaction to the horrors
of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars that followed.
Though Austen died at just 41, she lived long enough to see
the epic conflict with Napoleon send an even clearer signal -
that the days of the passionate English hero were numbered.
In Jane Austen's unfinished last novel, Sanditon, written in 1817,
one of the characters expresses regret
at the name he's given his guest-house.
He says, "I almost wish I had not named it Trafalgar -
"Waterloo is more the thing now." And indeed it was.
In 12 years, the Battle of Trafalgar and its hero, Admiral Nelson,
had been eclipsed by a new national hero,
one in whom the characteristics of the stiff upper lip
had finally seemed to converge.
His greatest military triumph was Waterloo
and he was, of course, The Duke of Wellington.
Apsley House, otherwise known as Number One London,
was Wellington's home from 1818.
Here, one portrait demonstrates
from just how different a cloth this hero was cut.
This portrait of Wellington by Thomas Lawrence
was painted after his triumph at Waterloo.
Military portraits are on the whole not meant to be friendly,
but this one is particularly forbidding -
it is saying, "This is not a person you want to cross.
"This is not someone you want to mess with."
Portraits of Nelson tended to have him looking out of the picture,
either at imaginary ships or thinking romantic thoughts.
This is straight at you.
This is not a man who's going to invite a fellow officer to kiss him,
even if he's dying.
Born into a family of minor aristocrats,
Wellington had grown up in the shadow of his elder brothers.
But after joining the army, he eventually made a name for himself
with notable victories at Assaye in India,
Busaco in Portugal and Vitoria in Spain.
And his military demeanour was always distinguished
by rigorous self control.
His approach to running an army was methodical, dogged, regimented
and his day-to-day routine was always the same -
he got up at six, spent three hours writing letters,
then dressed, shaved, breakfasted
before having meetings with senior officers.
In the afternoons, he toured the units of his army,
offering a model of calmness and fortitude
to everyone under his command.
Discipline characterised Wellington's way with words, too -
he hated hyperbole and became known
for his dry deployment of understatement.
In 1814 he signed off a letter to his brother with a postscript,
"I believe I forgot to tell you - I was made a Duke."
But Wellington's image was the result
of a self-consciously studied act.
What he showed on the outside didn't always match how he felt within.
The popular conception of the classic, impassive, reserved Briton
is that he's not actually feeling anything,
but I'm not sure this is right
and it's certainly not right about the prototype figure,
the Duke of Wellington. He felt things very deeply.
It was the expression of emotion that he wasn't so keen on.
His friend, the diarist Lady Frances Shelley,
recalls him telling her about the draining effects of warfare,
he said, "I always say that next to a battle lost,
"the greatest misery is a battle gained.
"Not only do you lose those dear friends
"with whom you have been living,
"but you are forced to leave the wounded behind you.
"To be sure, one tries to do the best for them,
"but how little that is.
"At such moments, every feeling in your breast is deadened."
And it is that deadening of feeling
that Wellington decided was essential
if you were to answer the calls of duty and public service.
He was a very self-conscious young man,
and I think he was aware of the emotional side of his life
being something which could interfere
with the practical side of his life as a soldier,
and the symbolic moment for him - he was very musical -
was when he took his violin - which he loved and he was very good at -
and he threw it in the fire.
He destroyed the side of his life
which might get in the way of him winning battles.
Wellington's cool, phlegmatic disposition
was emphasised by one colossal factor -
This statue of Napoleon was commissioned by Napoleon himself
and portrayed the famously short emperor as a giant god - Mars.
But this serene classical figure
is not the Napoleon of the British imagination.
Egged on by the likes of caricaturist James Gillray,
for us he was a hot-headed product of the Revolution
and a crazed bogeyman.
The two nations were likewise personified.
All the ills of the French were embodied in Liberte -
a frenzied, rampaging harpy.
Meanwhile the vessel for British virtues
was the calm, majestic Britannia.
Both stereotypes proved surprisingly enduring.
Wellington had risen to pre-eminence under King George III,
served as Prime Minister to his two successors
and wouldn't die until well into the reign of Queen Victoria.
In that time, Imperial expansion abroad
and Industrial Revolution at home
had swelled Britain's coffers and heightened her ambitions -
now travel was swifter, cities were larger
and society more complex than ever.
But it had also acquired a new moral seriousness.
Now in this Britain, Wellington's dutifully heroic example
seemed a better fit than ever.
On the day of his funeral, the 18th November 1852,
over a million mourners lined the route to St Paul's Cathedral.
The public, who could have behaved like a mob,
behaved with a self-restraint worthy of the Duke.
Queen Victoria was so impressed she wrote to her uncle,
King Leopold of the Belgians, saying,
"The foreigners have all assured me
"that they could never have believed such a number of people
"could have shown such feeling, such respect, for not a sound was heard."
Wellington's tomb was positioned in the crypt.
But it couldn't be given pride of place.
Nelson had taken that spot years earlier.
But it was the sober example of Wellington
that now spoke most directly to the priorities of Victorian Britain.
The day after Wellington died
The Morning Chronicle ran an obituary
in which it celebrated his character
and his place in the national pantheon.
Whilst conceding that the Duke had never been, quote,
"In the vulgar sense 'popular'," it wrote,
"A nation's tears will bedew the hearse of Wellington.
"Even though not from the same causes
"which poured them on that of Nelson."
It's saying that the public may have loved Nelson
but they ADMIRED the Duke of Wellington -
which is much more important.
And, "His character, if less amiable,
"is a higher, a more complete and a nobler one,"
and The Chronicle is confident that the British public
will spot beneath what it calls "the ice of character,"
the "fire of genuine and self-sacrificing principle."
And it's that key phrase - "the ice of character" -
that we may find rather chilling,
but the Victorians would come to find more and more important.
In the coming era individual Britons of all ranks, men and women,
would be expected to pull their weight
in the service of Queen and country.
Because the Victorians believed
that the next chapter of the British success story
would be determined by the moral fibre of the people themselves.
The phrase "the stiff upper lip" had not yet been coined -
ironically it was to be borrowed from the Americans
in the latter part of the century.
But by the mid-1800s, this ideal of a British national character
had definitely been minted.
It survived so well and for so long
that we now tend to think of it as obvious and inevitable,
but it was, in fact, a complex reaction
to fear of a revolution at home, threat of wars abroad
and an intellectual debate about morality and behaviour.
It served the nation well on its new, self-confident course
and was of invaluable assistance
in the coming heyday of global domination,
but it also bound the country together
with a common image of itself.
From now on we were going to be modest about our national pride
and inordinately proud of our national modestly.
Next week - how the stiff upper lip was spread,
right through every level of Victorian society,
to become an equal-opportunity, all-embracing,
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Ian Hislop asks when and why we British have bottled up or let out our feelings and how this has affected our history.
Revealing as much about ourselves today as about our past, this is a narrative history of emotion and identity over the last three hundred years, packed with extraordinary characters, fascinating vignettes and much humour, illuminated through the lens of culture - novels, paintings, magazines, cartoons, film and television - from which Ian gives his personal take on our evolving national character.
Far from being part of our cultural DNA, emotional restraint was a relatively recent national trait. Foreigners in Tudor England couldn't believe how touchy-feely we could be - 'wherever you move there is nothing but kisses' wrote a shocked Erasmus. In this opening episode, Ian Hislop charts how and why the stiff upper lip emerged in the late 18th and early 19th century in a country till then often awash with sentiment.
In 18th-century British society, public emoting was a sign of refinement and there was a vogue for all things sentimental. It was very much the done thing for women and men to weep at Samuel Richardson's novels or have Johann Zoffany paint their portraits to highlight their tenderness and sensitivity. But Ian reveals that a new idea - politeness - paved the way for the emergence of the stiff upper lip by prizing consistency of behaviour over emotional honesty. To illustrate this he plunders the candid diary of James Boswell, an aspirational young Scot plagued with anxieties about how far he should show his feelings in fashionable London.
Ian also tells the story of early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, who famously argued that women's heads should rule their hearts, but failed to practise what she preached when she fell in love with a dashing but dastardly American.
Ian argues that, strange as it may seem, we have the French to thank for our stiff upper lip - the horrors of the French Revolution and the threat from Napoleon teaching the British ruling classes just where rampant emotional expression might lead. Instead, the new breed of British heroes became men with admirable self-control, like Jane Austen's Mr Knightley, who famously tells Emma 'If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.'
This was a time of profound transition for Britain - and how it expressed its feelings - which Ian encapsulates with the tale of two national heroes - Nelson and Wellington. Admiral Nelson was the last 18th-century buccaneering adventurer - flamboyant, philandering, a man whose shameless sentimentality bolstered his huge popularity. His death-bed plea for an embrace from his best friend was so shocking to the Victorians a generation later that they changed 'kiss me, Hardy' to 'kismet'. By contrast, the Iron Duke, Wellington, was the prototype for the cool, calm and collected Brit. And it was Wellington, not Nelson, who would become the pre-eminent role model for the Victorians.
As Ian tracks the emergence of the stiff upper lip, he finds himself playing cricket on the Champs Élysées and discovers some 200-year-old merchandising David Beckham would be proud of. Along the way AN Wilson, Thomas Dixon and John Mullan help Ian get the measure of how our upper lips stiffened.