Great Britain is also fortunate in being located off the western border of Europe near the meeting place of the Romance and Nordic types of culture. Because of this it has received a highly diverse assortment of ideas and institutions from each type. This is plainly evident in the English language which combines Teutonic and Latin elements so fully that we can almost say the same thing in two different languages and yet speak English in both cases. For example: "This book tells about the best home of man," or "This volume contains facts concerning the optimum human habitat." Our literature, laws, and customs reflect this same duality, and thus make for a richness of life rarely found outside the English-speaking world.
Another advantage of Great Britain is its location between continental Europe and America. Near enough to Europe to be genuinely European, it yet stands so far west that it is a natural stepping-stone between the two continents. Ireland, to be sure, lies still farther west, but it lacks contact with the rest of Europe and has other disadvantages which have prevented it from playing the role of middleman which has been vital in Great Britain. This in turn has been one of the reasons why English-speaking people have colonized the best parts of the New World and Australia. Being posted on the edge of the new territory, like prospective settlers in the days when new lands were opened in the western United States, the British rushed in and seized what they wished at the first opportunity. Thus the British Empire owes its inception to the insularity and western location of Great Britain as well as to the character of the people and their great ability as sailors.
Another important but less commonly recognized advantage of Great Britain pertains to immigration and the quality of the people. The isolated location and insularity of the country, aided by the cool marine climate, long caused the island to remain not only relatively inaccessible, but almost uninhabited. Interstratified peat bogs and forests, as well as other lines of evidence, indicate that from about 1000 to 600 B.C. Britain was cooler and more humid than now. Even a slight change in this direction, as we shall see later, would make agriculture impossible in most parts of the island. Accordingly about 2500 years ago or later the population of Great Britain must have been extremely sparse, and the present population is derived largely from comparatively recent migrants who crossed the North Sea or English Channel after the climate ameliorated. The Celts, Saxons, Angles, Danes, and even the Normans who thus settled in England migrated under difficulties. People who migrate under such conditions usually, if not invariably, include an uncommonly high percentage of the sturdy, vigorous, adventurous, adaptable, strongwilled, and ingenious types. Those who are deficient in these qualities tend to stay at home or to be weeded out through the hardships, exposure, and discouragement of migration. Women and children suffer especially. Hence there is a drastic selection leaving survivors who form especially good material from which to build a nation. Practically all countries reap some benefit in this way, but Great Britain appears to have profited to an unusual degree by reason of its island isolation, its marginal but not too remote location, and the relatively inhospitable character of its climate until quite recent times.
The benefit thus derived did not end with the Normans. In later days Great Britain has received many other unusually fine types of immigrants. Flemings, Huguenots, Germans, and others have fled thither from religious or political persecution. Competent European artisans have been deliberately brought to England because of their skill; others have migrated thither because they were not satisfied at home, and England offered great opportunities. Even in recent decades Great Britain has received a large number of unusually able people who have left the mainland of Europe because of political and social chaos. Such immigration is encouraged not only by England's position close to the Continent, but by the further fact that because Great Britain is an island it has been free from many of the political complications of the mainland. This has saved Great Britain from the slavish fear of new ideas and of consequent political upheavals which have often caused the mainland countries to be afraid to receive free-thinking immigrants.