The Origins and Destiny of Imperial Britain - Nineteenth Century Europe
by J. A. Cramb
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The use which Gibbon has made of this argument is celebrated. In Gibbon's life, indeed, regret for the Empire, for the Rome of Trajan and of Marcus, exercises as strong a sway, artistically, as regret for the Republic exercises over the art and thought of Tacitus. Both desiderate a world which is not now, musing with fierce bitterness or cold resignation upon that which was once but is no longer. Both ponder the question, "How could the disaster have been averted? How could the decline of Rome have been stayed?" Tacitus is the greater poet—more penetrating in vision, a greater master of his medium, profounder in his insight into the human heart. But a common atmosphere of elegy pervades the work of both, and if Gibbon again and again forgets the inquiry with which he set out, the charm of his work gains thereby. A pensive melancholy akin to that of Petrarch's Trionfi, or the Antiquites de Rome of Joachim du Bellay, redeems from monotony, by the emotion it communicates, the over-stately march of many a balanced period.[8] But it were as vain to seek in Tasso for a philosophic theory of the Crusades as seek in Gibbon a philosophic theory of the decline of empires.

His artistic purpose was strengthened to something like a prophetic purpose by the environment of his age, the incidents of his life, and the bent of his own intellect. He combats the same enemy as Voltaire waged truceless war upon—the subtle, intangible, omnipresent spirit of insincerity, hypocrisy, and superstition, from which the bigotry and religious oppression of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries derived their power. And Gibbon's indebtedness to Voltaire is amazing. There is scarcely a living conception in the Decline and Fall which cannot be traced to that nimble, varied, and all-illuminating spirit. Even the ironic method of the two renowned chapters was prompted by a section in the Essai sur les Moeurs.

Thus to the theory of Tacitus, the departure from the ancient simplicity of life, Gibbon adds the theory of Zosimus.[9] With Zosimus he affirms that the triumph of Christianism sealed the fate of Rome, and in the Emperor Julian Gibbon finds the same heroic but ill-starred defender of the past, as Tacitus found in the unfortunate Germanicus. This conception informs Gibbon's work throughout, prompting alike the furtive, malignant, or tasteless sketches of the great Pontiffs and the great Caesars, and the finish, the studied care, the vivid detail lavished upon the portraits of their enemies. Half-seriously, half-smiling at his own enthusiasm, he seems to discern in Mohammed, in Saladin, and the Ottoman power, the avengers of Julian and the Rome of the Antonines.

And thus Ruskin, inspired by a mood of his great teacher, traces the decline of Venice to its abandonment of Christianism, and Gibbon, influenced by Voltaire and the environment of his age, traces the fall of Rome to the adoption of Christianism.


Underlying both these classes of theories, the retributive and the cyclic, and underlying much of the speculation both of the eighteenth and of the nineteenth century upon the subject, is the assumption that the decay of empires is accidental, or arises from causes that can be averted, or from the operation of forces that can be modified. The mediaeval conception of one empire upon the earth, which yet shall endure forever in righteousness, influences even the mind of Gibbon. He had studied Polybius, and Rome's indefeasible right to the government of the world was the faith which Polybius had announced. And in the hour of Judaea's humiliation and ruin her prophets had still proclaimed a similar hope of everlasting dominion to Israel.

But, as the centuries advance, it grows ever clearer that regret or surprise at the passing of empires is like regret or surprise at the passing of youth. Man might as well start once more to discover the elixir of life and alchemy's secrets as hope to found an empire that shall not pass away.

To ponder too curiously the question why a State declines is like pondering too curiously the question why a man dies. In the vicissitudes of States we are on the threshold of the same Mystery as in the vicissitudes of nature and of human life. The tracts and regions governed by cause and effect are behind us. An empire, like a work of art, is an end in itself, but duration in the former is an integral portion or phase of that end. From the concept, "Empire," duration is inseparable, and the extent of that duration is involved in the concept itself. Duration and modes, religious or ethical, are alike determined from within, from the divine thought realizing itself through the individual in the State. The curve of an empire's history is directed by no self-existent, isolated causes. It is a portion of the universe, evading analysis as the beauty of a statue evades analysis, lost in the vastness of nature, in the labyrinths of the soul which created and of the soul which contemplates its perfection.

Therefore regret for the fall of an empire, unless, as in the works of a Gibbon or a Tacitus, it aids in transforming the present nearer to the heart's desire, is vain enough. The Eros of Praxiteles and the Athene of Scopas, like the Cena of Leonardo and the Martyr of Titian, are beyond our reach, and with all our industry we shall hardly recover the ninety tragedies of Aeschylus. But the moment within the soul of the artist which these works enshrined, which by their inception and completion they did but strengthen and prolong, that moment of vision has not passed away. It has become part of the eternal, as the aspirations, fortitudes, heroisms, endurances, great aims which Rome or Hellas impersonates have become part of the eternal. Man, born into a world which was not made for him, is perplexed, until in such moments the end for which he was himself fashioned is revealed. The artist, the hero, and the prophet give of their peace unto the world. Yet is this gift but a secondary thing, and subject to cause, and time, and change.

In the consummation of the life of a State the world-soul realizes itself in a moment analogous to this moment in art. The form perishes, nation, city, empire; but the creative thought, the soul of the State, endures. As the marble or poem represents the supreme hour in the individual life, the ideal long pursued imaged there, perfect or imperfect, so the State represents the ideal pursued by the race. It is the embodiment in living immaterial substance of the creative purpose of the race, of the individual, and ultimately of the Divine. The State is immaterial; no visible form betrays it. Athene or Roma are but the arbitrary emblems of an invisible, ever changing life, most subtle, most complex, yet indivisibly one, woven each day anew from myriads of aspirations, designs, ideals, recorded or unrecorded. Those heroic personalities, a Hildebrand, a Napoleon, a Cromwell, a Richelieu, who usurp the attributes of the State, do but interpret the State to itself, rudely or faultlessly. Philip and Alexander, Baber and Akbar, are the men who respond to, who feel more profoundly than other men, the ideal, the impulse which beats at the heart of the race. The divine thought is in them more immanent than in other men. To Akbar the vision of the continent from Himalaya to either sea, all brought to the feet of Mohammed, of Islam, impersonated in himself, is an ethereal vision like that which leads Alexander eastward beyond the Tigris to spread far the name of Hellas. Akbar started as his grandfather had started, and Baber's faith was not less sincere.[10] But the contact with other races and other creeds diverted or heightened this first purpose of the Mongol, and at the pinnacle of earthly power, Akbar met and yielded to the temptation, which dazzled for a moment even the steady gaze of Napoleon. Apprehending the unity beneath the diversity of the religions of his various subjects, Hindoo, Persian, Mohammedan, Christian, Akbar dared the lofty enterprise and essayed to extract the common truth of all, selecting, as Julian had done, twelve centuries before him, the sun as the symbol of universal beneficence, and truth, and life. He failed, but failed greatly.

The distinctions of a great State, art, action, empire, supremacy in thought, supremacy in deed, supremacy in conception of the ideal of humanity, like rays emanating from the same divine centre, thither converge again. Any attempt to explain their succession and decay in terms of a mechanical law must thus lead either to the reserve of Machiavelli, to the outworn fantasies of Bossuet, or to such formulas as those of Ruskin and Gibbon, in which synchronous phenomena are woven into a chain of causes and effects.

Even in the sphere of individual existence death is but a mode of human thought, a name which has no counterpart in the frame of things. As life is but a mode of the divine thought, so death is but a mode of human thought, a creation of the intellect the more vividly to realize itself and life. Every effect is in turn a cause. Therefore every cause is eternal, an infinite series, existing at once successive and simultaneous; for the effect is not the death of, but the continued life of the cause. Universes and the soul of man are but self-transformations of the first last Cause, the One, the Cause within Cause immortal, effect within effect unending. "Man," it has been said, "is the inventor of Nothingness. Nature and the Universe know it not." The past wields over the present a power which could never be derived from Death and Nothingness. No age, as was pointed out in the first lecture, has felt this power so intimately as the present. As if we had a thousand lives to live, we consume the present in the study of the past, and sink from sight ourselves while still contemplating the scenes designed for other eyes. Even our most living impulses we interpret as if they were sacred runes carved by long-vanished hands, so that it seems as if the dead alone lived, and the living alone were dead.

But the soul unifies all things, and is then most in the present when most deeply absorbed in the past. The soul of man is the true Logos of the universe. It is the contemporary of all the ages, and to none of the aeons is it a stranger. It heard the informing voice which instructed the planets in their paths, which moulded the rocks, the bones of the earth, and cast the sea and the far-stretched plains and the hills about them like a covering of flesh. Therefore time and death and nothingness are but shadows, which the intellect of man sets over against the substance which lives and is eternally.

And thus in the vicissitudes of States, even more impressively than elsewhere in the universal process of transformation which Nature is, the daring metaphor of the Hebrew, "As a vesture shalt Thou change them, and they shall be changed," seems realized. The death of a State, the fall of an empire, are but phases in their history, by which a complete self-realization is attained, or the perpetuation of their ideals under other forms, as Egypt in Hellas, Hellas in Rome, is secured.

In Portugal's short span of empire, her day of brief and troubled splendour, her monarchs realize, even at the hazard of a temporary eclipse of the nation's independence, the aspirations of the race, which slowly arising, and growing in force and intensity, had become the fixed, tyrannous desire of a people, until, in Camoens' terse phrase of Manuel, "from that one great thought it never swerved." Another policy and other aims than those which her monarchs pursued—tolerance instead of fanaticism, prudence instead of heroism, national patriotism instead of imperial, homely common sense instead of glorious wisdom—all or any of these might have warded off the doom of Portugal and of the house of Avis. Bur these things were not in the blood of Lusitania, nor would this have been the nation of Vasco da Gama and Camoens, of Alboquerque and Cabral. It is as vain to seek in depopulation for the causes of the fall of Portugal as in the Inquisition or the Papal power. Even Buckle, that mighty statistician, would hardly risk the determining of the ratio which may not be overstepped between the bounds of an empire and the extent of the nation which creates it. If her yeomen forsook the fields and left the soil of Portugal unfilled, if her chivalry forsook their estates, the question confronts us: What is the character, the heart of a race which acts in this manner? What is the ideal powerful enough to make the hazard of a nation's death preferable to the abandonment of that ideal? The nation which sent its bravest to die at Al-Kasr al Kebir[11] is not a nation of adventurers. Nor do the instances of Phocaea, of the Cimbri, or the Ostrogoths afford any analogy here. Dom Sebastian's device fits not only his own career but the history of the race of which at that epoch he was at once the king and the ideal hero—"A glorious death makes the whole life glorious." And the genius of the nation sanctioned his life and his heroic death. To Portugal Dom Sebastian became such a figure as Frederick Barbarossa, dead on the far-off crusade, had been to the Middle Age, and for two centuries, whenever night thickened around the fortunes of the race, the spirit of Dom Sebastian returned to illumine the gloom, showing himself to a few faithful ones; and in very truth the spirit of his deeds and of their fathers never died in the hearts of the Portuguese, inspiring whatever is memorable in their later history.

Spain completes in the expulsion of the Moors the warfare, the Crusade, which began with Pelayo and the remnant of the Visigoths. Spain, as Spain, could not act otherwise, could not act as Germany acted, as England acted. Venice, so far from abandoning the faith of the Nazarene, as Ruskin fancied, barred of her commerce, seeing her power pass to Portugal, did yet, solitary and unaided, face the Ottoman, and for two generations made the Crusades live again. It is another Venice, yet religion is not the cause of that otherness. She defies Paul V in the name of freedom, in the days of Sarpi,[12] as she had defied Innocent III in the name of empire in the days of Dandolo.

Hellas still lives, still forms an element, vitalizing and omnipresent, in the life of States and in human destiny. Roman grandeur is not dead whilst Sulla, Tacitus, Montesquieu, Machiavelli survive. To Petrarch the Rome of the Scipios is more present than the Rome of the Colonnas, and it numbers among its citizens Byron, Goethe, and Leopardi.

For like all great empires Rome strove not for herself but for humanity, and dying, had yet strength, by her laws, her religion, her language, to impart her spirit and the secret of her peace to other races and to other times. In the world's palaestra she had thrown the discus to a point which the empires that come after, dowered as Rome was dowered, and by kindred ideals fired, must struggle to surpass, or in this divine antagonism be broken.

For what does the fall of Rome mean, and what are its relations to this Empire of Britain? In an earlier lecture I illustrated my conception of the Rome of the fifth century in the similitude of a Goth bending over a dead Roman, and by the flare of a torch seeking to read on the still brow the secret of his own destiny. Rome does not die there. Her genius lives on in the Gothic race, deep, penetrating, and all-informing, and in the picked valour of that race, which for six hundred years spends itself in forging England, it is deepest, most penetrating, and all-informing. Roman definiteness of thought and act were in that nation touched by mysticism to reverie and compassion. From the ashes of the dead ideal of concrete justice, imaginative justice is born. Right becomes righteousness, but the living genius which was Rome still pulses within it. By the energy of feudalism the ancient subjection of the individual to the State is challenged. Freedom is born, but like some winged glory hovering aloft, rivets the famished eyes of men, till at last, descending by the Rhine, it fills with its radiance a darkened world. Religious oppression is stayed, but, Phoenix-like, yet another ideal arises, and generations later, what a temple is reared for it by the Seine! And now in this era, and at this latest time, behold in England the glory has once more alighted, as once for a brief space by the Rhine and Seine, but surely to make here its lasting mansionry. For in very truth, in all that freedom and all that justice possess of power towards good amongst men, is not England as it were earth's central shrine and this race the vanguard of humanity?

Rome was the synthesis of the empires of the past, of Hellas, of Egypt, of Assyria. In her purposes their purposes lived. Mediaeval imperialism strove not to rival Rome but to be Rome. In Britain the spirit of Empire receives a new incarnation. The form decays, the divine idea remains, the creative spirit gliding from this to that, indestructible. And thus the destiny of empires involves the consideration of the destiny of man.

[1] In Volkmann's edition of Plotinus, the sole attempt at a critical text worthy of the name that has yet been made, the passage runs as follows:

[2] Spinoza's answer to the "melancholici qui laudat vitam incultem et agrestem" (iv Prop., 35, note), that men can provide for their needs better by society than by solitude, hardly meets the higher criticism of the State. Yet it anticipates Fichte's retort to Rousseau. Spinoza, if this were written circa 1665, has in view, perhaps, the Trappists, then reorganized by Bossuet's friend, and perhaps also Port Royal aux Champs.

[3] The writings of St. Augustine by their extraordinary variety, vast intellectual range, and the impression of a distinct personal utterance which flows from every page at which they are opened, exercise upon the imagination an effect like that which the works of Diderot or Goethe alone of moderns have the power to reproduce. The De Civitate is his greatest and most sustained effort, and though controversial in intention it reaches again and again an epic sublimity both in imagery and diction. The peoples and empires of the world are the heroes, and the part which Augustine assigns to the God of all the earth has curious reminiscences of the parts played by the deities in pagan poetry. Over the style the influence of Virgil is supreme. Criticism indeed offers few more alluring tasks than the attempt to gauge the comparative effects of the Virgilian cadences upon the styles of the men of after times who loved them most—Tacitus and St. Augustine, Dante, Racine, and Flaubert.

[4] The World-History of Otho of Freisingen was modelled upon the De Civitate of St. Augustine. He styles it the "Book of the Two Cities," i.e., Babylon and Jerusalem, and sketches from the mediaeval standpoint the course of human life from the origin of the world to the year A.D. 1146. His work on the Apocalypse and his impression of the Last Judgment are a fitting close to the whole. He is uncritical in the use of his materials, but conveys a distinct impression of his habits of thought; and something of the brooding calm of a mediaeval monastery invests the work. In the following year he started on the crusade of Konrad III, his half-brother; but returning in safety, wrote his admirable annals of the early deeds of the hero of the age, the emperor Barbarossa.

[5] The origin, the meaning, the number, and even the gender of this word have all been disputed. Thus the use of the original is convenient as it avoids committal to any one of the numerous theories of theologians or Hebraists. Delitzsch has sifted the evidence with scrupulous care and impartiality, whilst Renan's monograph possesses both erudition and charm.

[6] What figures from the Comedie Humaine of Roman society of the first century throng the pages of Tacitus—Sejanus, Arruntius, Piso, Otho, Bassus, Caecina, Tigellinus, Lucanus, Petronius, Seneca, Corbulo, Burrus, Silius, Drusus, Pallas, and Narcissus; and those tragic women of the Annals—imperious, recklessly daring, beautiful or loyal—Livia, Messalina, Vipsania, the two Agrippinas, mothers of Caligula and of Nero, Urgulania, Sabina Poppaea, Epicharis, Lollia Paulina, Lepida, Calpurnia, Pontia, Servilia, and Acte!

[7] In Richard Greneway's translation, London, 1598, one of the earliest renderings of Tacitus into English, this passage stands as follows:

"When I heare of these and the like things, I can give no certaine judgement, whether the affaires of mortall men are governed by fate and immutable necessitie; or have their course and change by chaunce and fortune. For thou shalt finde, that as well those which were accounted wise in auncient times, as such as were imitators of their sect, do varie and disagree therein; some do resolutlie beleeve that the gods have no care of man's beginning or ending; no, not of man at all. Whereof it proceedeth that the vertuous are tossed and afflicted with so many miseries; and the vitious (vicious) and bad triumphe with so great prosperities. Contrarilie, others are of opinion that fate and destinie may well stand with the course of our actions: yet nothing at all depend of the planets or stars, but proceede from a connexion of naturall causes as from their beginning. And these graunt withall, that we have free choise and election what life to follow; which being once chosen, we are guided after, by a certain order of causes unto our end. Neither do they esteeme those things to be good or bad which the vulgar do so call."

Murphy's frequent looseness of phraseology, false elegance, and futile commentary, are nowhere more conspicuous than in his version of the sixth book of the Annals and of this paragraph in particular.

[8] Life, Love, Fame, and Death are themes of Petrarch's Triumphs. The same profound sense of the transiency of things, which meets us in the studied pages of his confessional—the Latin treatise De Contemptu Mundi—pervades these exquisite poems. Du Bellay's Antiquities, which Spenser's translation under the title of The Ruines of Rome has made familiar, were written after a visit to Rome in attendance upon the Cardinal du Bellay, and first published in 1558. The beautiful Songe sur Rome accompanied them. Two years later Du Bellay, then in his thirty-fifth or thirty-sixth year, died. The preciousness of these poems is enhanced rather than diminished if we imagine that the friend of Ronsard endeavoured to wed the music of Villon's Ballades to the passing of empires and of Rome.

[9] In the generation succeeding that of St. Augustine, the fall of Rome formed the subject of a work in six books by Zosimus, an official of high rank at Constantinople. The fifth and sixth books deal with the period between the death of Theodosius and the capture of the city by Alaric (A.D. 395-410). Zosimus ascribes the disaster to the revolution effected in the life and conduct of the Romans by the new religion. The tone of the whole history is evidently inspired by the brilliant but irregular works of the Syrian Eunapius whom hero-worship and the regret for a lost cause blinded to all gave the imposing designs of the Emperor Julian.

[10] Baber's own memoirs, Memoirs of Zehir-ed-din Muhammed Baber, emperor of Hindustan, one of the priceless documents of history, show the manner in which he conceived his mission. Here is his account of the supreme incident in his spiritual life; "In January, 1527, messengers came from Mehdi Khwajeh to announce that Sanka, the Rana of Mewar, and Hassan Khan Mewati, were on their march from the west. On February 11th I went forth to the Holy War. On the 25th I mounted to survey my posts, and during the ride I was struck with the reflection that I had always resolved to make an effectual repentance at some period of my life. I now spoke with myself thus—'O my soul, how long wilt thou continue to take pleasure in sin? Not bitter is repentance: then taste it thou! Since the day wherein thou didst set forth on a Holy War, thou hast seen Death before thine eyes for thy salvation. And he who sacrificeth his life to save his soul shall attain that exalted state thou wottest of.' Then I sent for the gold and the silver goblets, and broke them, and drank wine no more, and purified my heart. And having thus heard from the Voice that errs not, the tidings of peace, and being now for the first time a Mussulman indeed, I commanded that the Holy War shall begin with the grand war against the evil in our hearts." Such was the mood in which, on the 24th of the first Jemadi, A.H. 933, Baber proceeded to found the Mogul Empire.

[11] The battle of Al-Kasr al Kebir, in Morocco, about fifty miles south of Tangiers, was fought on August 4th, 1578. The king, Dom Sebastian, and the flower of the Portuguese nobility died on the field. As in Scotland after Flodden, there was not a house of name in Portugal which had not its dead to mourn.

[12] The genius of this great thinker, patriot, scholar, and historian, along with the heroism of the war of Candia, "the longest and most memorable siege on record," as Voltaire designates it, throw a dying lustre over the Venice of the seventeenth century, which in painting has then but such names as those of Podovanino and the younger Cagliari. Sarpi's defence of Venice against Paul V, an attorney in the seat of Hildebrand, occurred in 1605. It consists of two works—the Tractate and the Considerations—and probably of a third drawn up for the secret use of the Council of Ten. Like Voltaire, Sarpi seems to have lived with a pen in his hand. His manuscripts in the Venice archives fill twenty-nine folio volumes. The first collected edition of his works was published, not unfitly, in the year of the fall of the Bastille.



[Tuesday, July 10th, 1900]

Though life itself and all its modes are transient, but shadows cast through the richly-tinted veil of Maya upon the everlasting deep of things, yet such dreams as those of perpetual peace and of empires exempt from degeneration and decay, like the illusion of perpetual happiness, the prayer of Spinoza for some one "supreme, continuous, unending bliss," have mocked man from the beginning of recorded history to the present hour. They are ancient as the rocks and their musings from eternity, inextinguishable as the elan of the soul imprisoned in time towards that which is beyond time.

And yet the effect of these, as of all false illusions, is but to render the value of Reality—I had almost said of the real Illusion—more poignant. Indeed, "false" and "unreal" at all times are mere designations we apply to the hours of dim and uncertain vision[1] when tested by the standard which the moments of perfect insight afford.

Nothing is more tedious, yet nothing is more instructive, than the study of the formulated ideals, the imagings of what life might be or life ought to be, of poets or of systematic philosophers. Nothing so instantly reconciles us to war as the delineations of humanity under "meek-eyed Peace"; and to the passing of visible things, empires, states, arts, laws, and this universal frame of things, as such attempts as have been made to stay time and change, and abrogate the ordinances of the world.

Was machst du an der Welt? sie ist schon gemacht. Why shapest thou the world? 'twas shapen long ago.[2]

Nor does this result in the mood of Candide. The effort unconquered and unending to behold the visible and the passing as in very truth it is, leads to a deeper vision of the Unseen and of the Eternal as in very truth it is.

Thus we are prepared to consider the following question. Given that death is nothing, and the decline of empires but a change of form, will this empire of Imperial Britain also decline and fall? Will the form it now enshrines pass away, as the forms of Persia, Rome, the Empire of Akbar, have passed away? The question resolves itself into two parts—in what does the youth of a race or of an empire consist? And, secondly, is it possible by any analogy from the past to measure or gauge the possible or probable duration of Imperial Britain, to determine to what era, say in the history of such an empire as Rome or Islam, the present era in the history of Imperial Britain corresponds?


First of all with regard to the former question. Recent studies in ethnology have made it clear that youth, and all that this term implies of latent or realized energies, mental, physical, intellectual, is not the inevitable attribute and exclusive possession of uncivilized or of recently civilized races. Yet this assumption still underlies much of the current speculation on the subject. Last century it was received as an axiomatic truth. Thus in the time of Louis XV, when a romantic interest first invested the American Indians, French writers saw in them the prototypes of the Germans described by Tacitus. Not only Voltaire and Rousseau, but Montesquieu himself, regard them curiously, as if in the backwoods dwelt the future dominators of the world. Comparisons were drawn between their manners, their religion, their customs, and those of the Goths and the Franks, and litterateurs indulged the fancy that in delineating the Hurons of the Mississippi they were preparing for posterity a literary surprise and a document lasting as the Germania. Such comparisons are still at times made, but they are like the comparison between a rising and a receding tide; both trace the same line along the sands, but it is the same tide only in appearance. It is the contrast between the simplicity of childhood and of senility, between the simplicity of a race dowered with many-sided genius and of a race dowered with but one-sided genius. It is neither in the absence of civilization, nor in its newness, that the youth of a race consists; nor does the old age of a race consist in refinement, nor capacity for the arts necessarily imply decline of political energy. The victories of the Germans in 1870 were like Fate's ironic comment upon the inferences drawn from their love of philosophy. Abstract thought had not unfitted the race for war, nor "Wertherism" for the battlefield.

But, as in the life of the individual, so in the life of a race, youth consists in capacity for enthusiasm for a great ideal, capacity to frame, resolution to pursue, devotion to sacrifice all to a great political end. Russia, for instance, has only recently come within the influence of European culture, but this does not make the Slav a youthful race. The Slavonic is indeed perhaps the oldest people in Europe. Its literature, its art, its music, the characteristics of its society alike attest this. Superstition is not youth, else we might look to the hut of the Samoyede even with more confidence than to the cabin of the Moujik for the imperial race of the future. And prolificness in a race does as surely denote resignation to be governed, as the genius to govern others.

And the Slav, as we have seen, has at no period of his history shown that "youth" which consists in capacity for a great political ideal, either in Poland, or amongst the Czechs, or in Russia.

The present German empire assuredly exhibits in nothing the qualities of ancient lineage; yet the race which composes it is the same race as was once united under Hapsburg, under Luxemburg, under Hohenstauffen, and under Franconian, as now under the Hohenzollern dynasty.

The United States as a nation bear the same relation to Britain as the Moorish kingdom in Spain bore to the Saracenic empire of Bagdad. It is a fragment, a colossal fragment torn from the central mass; but not only in its language, its literature, its religion and its laws, but in individual and national peculiarities, at least in the deeper moments of history and of life, the original stock asserts itself. The State is young; but the race is precisely of the same remoteness as Britain and the Greater Britain.

Passing to the second point—at what epoch do we now stand as compared with Rome or Islam? It is not unusual to speak of Britain as an aged empire, but such estimates or descriptions commonly rest upon a misapprehension, first, of the period in which the Nation of England strictly speaking arises, and secondly, of the period in which the Empire of Britain arises.

The traditional date of the landing of Hengist does not indicate a moment analogous to the moment in the history of Rome marked by the traditional date of the foundation of the city. The date 776 B.C. marks the close of a process of transformation and slow revolving unity extending over centuries, so that the era of Romulus and the early kings, Numa, Ancus, and Servius, may be regarded as an epoch in Rome's history analogous to the period in England's history between Senlac and the constitutional struggle of the thirteenth century. The former is the period in which the civic unity of Rome is completed. The latter is the period in which the national unity of England is completed. Rome is now finally conscious to itself of its career as a city, urbs Roma, as England in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries is finally conscious to itself of its career as a nation. Magna Carta and the constitutional struggle which followed may be said to determine the course of the national and political life of England as much as the Servian Code founded the civic unity and determined the character of the constitutional life of Rome.

And, as was pointed out in an earlier lecture, already in Rome and in England there are premonitions, foreshadowings of the future. The design of the city on the seven hills is the design of the eternal city, and the devotion of the gens Fabia announces the Roman legion. And in those wars of Crecy and Poitiers, the constancy, the dauntless heart, and the steady hand of the English archers, which broke the chivalry of France, what is it but the constancy of Waterloo, the squares, the charge, the Duke's words, spoken quietly as the words of fate, decreeing an empire's fall, "Stand up, Guards!"? And in 1381, the tramp of the feet of the hurrying peasants, sons and grandsons of the archers of Crecy, in the great Revolt, indignant at ingratitude and wrong, what is it but the prelude to the supremacy of the People of England, to the Petition of Right, to Cromwell's Ironsides, to Chartism and Reform Acts, and the Democracy, self-governing, imperial and warlike of the present hour? So that even as a nation, about eighteen generations may be said to sum England's life, whilst, as we have seen, Britain's conscious life as an empire extends backwards but to three generations or to four. Thus if the question were asked, With what period in the history of Rome does the present age correspond? I should say, roughly speaking, it corresponds with the period of Titus and Vespasian, when Rome has still a course of three hundred years to run; and in the history of Islam, with the period of the early Abbassides, when the fall of the Saracenic dominion is still some four centuries removed.

Does this justify us in inferring that the course which England has to run will extend still over three centuries and that then England too will pass away, as Rome, as the Saracenic empire, have passed away? So far as the determination of the eras in our history which correspond in development to eras in the history of Rome or of Islam is concerned, the inference from analogy possesses a certain validity. And the accidental or fixed resemblances between the empires of Islam,[3] Rome, and Imperial Britain are numerous and striking enough to render such comparisons of real significance to speculative politics. But the similarity in structural expansion or in environment which can be traced throughout the completed dramas of Rome and Islam is to be found only in the initial stages of Imperial Britain. Then the argument from analogy fails, and our judgment is at a stand.

Assuming that each imperial race starts its career dowered with a vital capacity of definite range, and allowing for the necessary divergences in their course between a civic and a national state. Imperial Britain, regarded from its past, may be said in the present era to have reached a stage represented by the era of Vespasian and Titus; but to proceed further is perilous, so momentous is the distinction that now arises between the circumstances of the two empires. During the present century the vast transformations which have been effected by science in the surroundings of man's physical life make all speculation upon the duration of Imperial Britain by analogies drawn from the duration either of Rome or of other empires, indecisive or rash.

The growth of the idea of freedom, and the modern interpretation of that idea in the spirit of Condorcet, have, within the bounds of the English nation itself, increased the intercourse between ranks to a degree unparalleled in the ancient world. The self-recuperative powers of the race have been strengthened by the course of its political and religious history. Fresh blood adds new energy to effete stocks. The effect of this restorative power from within is heightened in manifold ways by such a circumstance as the enormous facilities of locomotion which have arisen during the past two generations.

In the age of the first conscious beginnings of Imperial Britain, the communication between the regions of the empire was as difficult as in the Rome of Sulla; but the development of that consciousness has been synchronous, not only with increased intercourse between the ranks of the same nation, but with increased intercourse between all the various climes of an empire upon which the sun never sets. From city to city, from town to town, from province to province, from colony to colony, emigration and immigration, change and interchange of vast masses of the population are incessant. This increased intercommunication between the various members of the race, the influences of the change of climate upon the individual, aided by such imperceptible but many-sided forces as spring from the diffusion of knowledge and culture, mark a revolution in the vital resources and the environment in the British, as distinguished from the Saracenic or Roman race, so extraordinary that all analogy beyond the point which we have indicated is impossible, or so guarded by intricate hypotheses as to be useless or misleading.

Nature seems pondering some vast and new experiment, and an empire has arisen whose future course, whether we consider its political or its economic, its physical or its mental resources, leaves conjecture behind. The world-stage is set as for the opening of a drama which, at least in the magnitude of its incidents and the imposing circumstance of its action, will make the former achievements of men dwindle and seem of little account.


At this point we may fitly close our survey, and these "Reflections," by endeavouring to determine, not the remote future of Imperial Britain, but its immediate task, Fate's mandate to the present, and as we have considered Imperial Britain in its relations to the destiny of past empires, pause for a moment in conclusion upon its relations to the destiny of man.

To the ancient world, man in his march across the deserts of Time had left felicity and the golden age far beyond him, and Rousseau's vision of Humanity as starting upon a wrong track, and drifting ever farther from the path of its peace, had charmed the melancholy or the despair of Virgil and his great master in verse and speculation, Titus Lucretius.

This conception of man's destiny as an infinite retrogression, Eden receding behind Eden, lost Paradise behind lost Paradise, in the dateless past, encounters us, now as a myth, now as a religious or philosophic tenet, throughout the earlier history of humanity from the Baltic to the Indian Sea, from the furthest Orient to the Western Isles. Besides this radiant past even the vision of the abode which awaits the soul at death seems dusky and repellent, a land of twilight, as in the Etruscan legend, or that dominion over the shades which Achilles loathed beyond any mortal misery.

But the memory or the imagination of this land far behind, upon which Heaven's light for ever falls, the Asgard of the Goths, the Akkadian dream of Sin-land ruled by the Yellow Emperor, the reign of Saturn and of Ops, diminishes in power and living energy as the ages advance, and, perishing at last, is embalmed in the cold and crystal loveliness of poetry. In its place bright mansions, elysian groves, await the soul at death. Heaven closes around earth like a protecting smile, and from this hope of a recovered Paradise and new Edens amongst the stars, which to Dante and his time are but the earth's appanage, man advances swiftly to the desire, the hope, the certainty of a terrestrial Paradise waiting his race in the near or remote future. Thus, as the immanence of the Divine within the soul of man has deepened, and the desire of his heart has grown nearer the desire of the world-soul, so has the power of memory decreased and been transformed into hope. Man, tossed from illusion to illusion, has grown sensitive to the least intimations of Reality.

But these visions of Eden, whether located in a remote past, or in the interstellar spaces, or in the near future, have certain characteristics in common. From far behind to far in front the dream has shifted, as if the Northern Lights had moved from horizon to horizon, but it remains one dream. The earthly Paradise of the social reformer, a Saint-Simon or a Fourier, of a world free from war and devoted to agriculture and commerce, or of the philosophic evolutionist, of a world peopled by myriads of happy altruists bounding from bath to breakfast-room, illumined and illumining by their healthy and mutual smiles, differs from the earlier fancies of Asgard and the Isles of the Blest, not in heightened nobility and reasonableness, but in diminished beauty and poetry. The dream of unending progress is vain as the dream of unending regress.[4]

Critics of literature and philosophy have often remarked how sterile are the efforts to delineate a state of perfect and long-continued bliss, even when a Dante or a Milton undertakes the task, compared with delineations of torment and endless woe. And Aeschylus has remarked, and La Rochefoucauld and Helvetius bear him out, how much easier a man finds the effort to sympathize with another's misery than to rejoice in his joy.

Such contrasts are due, not to a faltering imagination, nor to the depravity of the human heart. They are the recognition by the dark Unconscious, which in sincerity of vision ever transcends the Conscious, that in man's life truth dwells not with felicity, that to the soul imprisoned in Time and Space, whether amongst the stars or on this earth, perfect peace is a mockery. But in Time, misery is the soul's familiar, anguish is the gate of truth, and the highest moments of bliss are, as the Socrates of Plato affirms, negative. They are the moments of oblivion, when the manacles of Time fall off, whether from stress of agony or delight or mere weariness. Therefore with stammering lips man congratulates joy, but the response of grief to grief is quick and from the heart, sanctioned by the Unconscious; therefore in the portraiture of Heaven art fails, but in that of Hell succeeds.

It is not in Time that the eternal can find rest, nor in Space that the infinite can find repose, and as illusion follows lost illusion, the soul of man does but the more completely realize the wonder ineffable of the only reality, the Eternal Now.


The deepening of this conception of man's destiny as beginning in the Infinite and in the Infinite ending, is one of the profoundest and most significant features of the present age. Its dominion over art, literature, religion, can no longer escape us. It is the dominant note of the last of the four great ages or epochs into which the history of the thought of modern Europe, in an ever-ascending scale, divides itself. A brief review of these four epochs will best prepare us for a consideration of the present position of Britain, and of the relations of its empire to the actual conditions of Europe and humanity.

The First Age is controlled by the Saintly Ideal. The European of that age is a visionary. The unseen world is to him more real than the seen, and art and poetry exist but to decorate the pilgrimage of the soul from earth to heaven. The new Jerusalem which Tertullian saw night by night descend in the sunset; the city of God, whose shining battlements Saint Augustine beheld gleam through the smoke of the world-conflagration of the era of Alaric and Attila, of Vandal and Goth, Frank and Hun; the Day of Wrath and Judgment which later times looked forward to as certainly as to the coming of spring, are but phases of one pervading aspiration, one passioning cry of the soul.

But the illusion which lures on that age fades when the ascetic zeal of the saint is frustrated by the joy of life, and the crusader's valour is broken on the Moslem lances, and the scholastic's indefatigable pursuit of a harmonizing, a reconciling word of reason and of faith, his ardour not less lofty than the crusader's to pierce the ever-thickening host of doubts, discords, fears, fall all in ruins, in accepted defeat or in formulated despair.

With the Second Age a new illusion arises, the Wahn of religious freedom. The ideal which Rome taught the world, upon which saint, crusader, and scholar built their hopes, turned to ashes—but shall not the human soul find the haven of its rest in freedom from Rome, in the pure faith of primitive times? When the last of the scholastics was being silenced by a papal edict and the consciousness of a hopeless task, the first of the new scholars was ushering in the world-drama of four centuries.

The world-historic significance of the Reformation lies in the effort of the European mind to pierce, at least in the sphere of Religion, nearer to the truth. The successive phases of this struggle may be compared to a vast tetralogy, with a Prelude of which the actors and setting are Huss and Jerome, the Council of Constance and Sigismund, the traitor of traitors, who gave John Huss "the word of a king," and Huss, solitary at the stake, when the flames wrapped him around, learned the value of the word of a king. Martin Luther is the protagonist of the first of the four great dramas that follow. Its theme is the consecration of man to sincerity in his relations to God. There, even at the hazard of death, the tongue shall utter what the heart thinks.

The second drama is named Ignatius Loyola; the theme is not less absorbing—"Art thou then so sure of the truth and of thy sincerity, O my brother?" Whatever his followers may have become, Don Inigo remains one of the most baffling enigmas that historical psychology offers. From his grave he rules the Council, and the Tridentine Decrees are the acknowledgment of his unseen sovereignty.

What tragic shapes arise and crowd the stage of the third drama—Thurn, Ferdinand, Tilly, Wallenstein, Richelieu, Gustavus, Conde, Oxenstiern! And when the last actors of the fourth drama, the conflict between moribund Jesuitism and Protestantism grown arrogant and prosperous, lay aside their masks in the world's great tiring-room of death, a new Age in world-history has begun.

As religious freedom is the Wahn of the Reformation drama, so it is in political freedom that the Eternal Illusion now incarnates itself. Let man be free, let man throughout the earth attain the unfettered use of all his faculties, and heaven's light will once more fill all the dark places of the world! This is the new avatar, this the glad tidings which announce the French Revolution and the Third Age. Of this ideal, the faith in which the French Girondins die is the most perfect expression. What is this faith for which Condorcet and his party perish, some by poison, some by the sword, some by the guillotine, some in battle, but all by violent deaths—Vergniaud, Roland, Barbaroux, Brissot, Barnave, Gensonne, Petion, Buzot, Isnard? "Oh Liberty, what crimes are done in thy name!" was not a reproach, but, in the gladness of the martyr's death which consecrated all the life, it was the wonder, the disquiet of a moment yet sure of its peace in some deeper reconcilement. Behold how strong is their faith! Marie Antoinette has her faith, the injunction of her priest, "When in doubt or in affliction, think of Calvary." Yet the hair of the Queen whitens, her spirit despairs. The Girondinist queen climbing the scaffold, not less a lover of love and of life than Marie Antoinette—what nerves her? It is the star of the future and the memory of Vergniaud's phrase, "Posterity? What have we to do with posterity? Perish our memory, but let France be free!"

How free are their souls, what nobility shines in the eyes of these men, light-stepping to their doom, immortally serene, these martyrs, witnesses to an ideal not less pure, not less lofty than those other two for which saint and reformer died! And their battle-march, which is also their hymn of death, Shelley has composed it, the choral chant, the vision of the future of the world, which closes Hellas.

This faith, in which the Girondins live and die is the hope, the faith that slowly arises in Europe through the eighteenth century, in political freedom as the regenerator, as the salvation of the world. Voltaire announces the coming of the Third Age—"Blessed are the young, for their eyes shall behold it"—and upon the ruins of the Bastille Charles James Fox sees it arise. "By how much," he writes to a friend, "is not this the greatest event in the history of the world!" Its presence shakes the steadfast heart of Goethe like a reed. Wordsworth, Schiller, Chateaubriand pledge themselves its hierophants—for a time! The Wahn of freedom, the eternal illusion, the dream of the human heart! First to France, then to Europe, then to all the earth—Freedom!

This is the faith for which the Girondins perish, and in dying bequeath to the nineteenth century the theory of man's destiny which informs its poetry, its speculative science, its systematic philosophy. It is the faith of Shelley and of Fichte, of Herbart and of Comte, of John Stuart Mill, Lassaulx, Quinet, not less than of Tennyson, last of the Girondins. For the ideal of the Third Age, freedom, knowledge, the federation of the world, passes as the ideals of the First and of the Second Age pass. Not in political any more than in religious freedom could man's unrest find a panacea. The new heavens and the new earth which Voltaire proclaimed vanished like the city which Tertullian saw beyond the sunset.

And knowledge—of what avail is knowledge?—or to scan the abysses of space and search the depths of time? If the utmost dreams of science, and all the moral and political aims of Girondinism were realized, if the foundations of life and of being were laid bare, if the curve of every star were traced, its laws determined, and its structure analysed, if the revolutions of this globe from its first hour, and the annals of all the systems that wheel in space, were by some miracle brought within our scrutiny—it still would leave the spirit unsatisfied as when these crystal walls did first environ its infinitude.

The defects, the nobility, and the beauty of the ideal of the Third Age are conspicuous in the great last work of Condorcet. As Mirabeau, the intellectual Catiline of his age, is the protagonist of Rebellion, that principle which has drawn the deepest utterances from the world-soul, from Job to Prometheus and Farinata, so Condorcet, whose countenance in its high and gentle benevolence seems the very expression of that bienfaisance which the Abbe de Saint-Pierre made fashionable, may be styled the high-priest of Girondinism, and he carries his faith beyond the grave, hallowing the altar of Freedom with his blood. In over a hundred pamphlets during the four years of his life as a Revolutionist, Condorcet disseminates his ideas—fortnightly pamphlets, many of them even now worth reading, lighting up now this, now that aspect of his faith—kingship, slavery, the destiny of man, two Houses, assignats, education of the people, finance, the rights of man, economics, free trade, the rights of women, the Progress of the Human Mind. It is in this last, written with the shadow of death upon him, that the central thought of his system is developed. He may have derived it from Turgot,[5] his master, and the subject of one of his noblest biographies, but he gave it a consecration of his own, and later writers have done little more than elaborate, vary, or reduce to scientific rule and line his living thought. Where they most are faithful, there his followers are greatest.

In the theory of evolution Condorcet's principles appear to find scientific expression and warrant, but it is pathetic to observe the speculative science of a modern systematizer advancing through volume after volume with the cumbrous but massive force of a traction-engine, only to find rest at last in a vision of Utopia some centuries hence, tedious as the Paradise of mediaeval poets or the fabulous Edens of earlier times.

Indeed, the conception of the infinite perfectibility of man, and of an eternal progress, carried its own doom in the familiar observation that there where progress can be traced, there the divine is least immanent. A distinguished statesman and writer, and a believer in evolution, recently avowed his perplexity that an age like the present, which has invented steam, electricity, and the kinematograph, should in painting and poetry not surpass the Renaissance, nor in sculpture the age of Phidias. In such perplexity is it not as if one heard again the threat of Mummius, charging his crew to give good heed to the statues of Praxiteles, on the peril of replacing them if broken!

Goethe, as the wrecks of his drama on Liberty prove, felt the might of the ideal of the Third Age with all the vibrating emotion which genius imparts.[6] But he was the first to discover its hollowness, and bade the world, in epigram or in prose tale, in lyric or in drama, to seek its peace where he himself had found it, in Art. So the labour of the scientific theorist, negatively beneficent by the impulsion of man's spirit beyond science, brings also a reward of its own to the devotee. The sun of Art falls in a kind of twilight upon his soul, working obscurely in words, and then does he most know the Unknowable when, in the passion of self-imposed ignorance, he rises to a kind of eloquence in proclaiming its unknowableness. Glimmerings from the Eternal visit the obscure study where the soul in travail records patiently the incidents of Time, and elaborates a theory of man's history as if it were framed to end like an Adelphi melodrama or a three-volume novel.


But from those very failures, those dissatisfactions, the ideal of the Fourth Age is born, and the law of a greater progress divined. For the soul, revolting at last against the fleeting illusions of time, the deceiving Edens of saint, reformer, and revolutionist, freedom from the body, freedom from religious, or freedom from political oppression, sets steadily towards the lodestar of its being, whose rising is not in Time nor its going down in Space. Nor is it in knowledge, whether of the causes of things, or of the achievements of statesmen, warriors, legislators, that the peace of the infinite is to be found, but in a vision of that which was when Time and Cause were not. Then instruction and the massed treasures of knowledge, established or theoretic, concerning the past and the future of the planet on which man plays his part, or of other planets on which other forms of being play their parts, do indeed dissolve and are rolled together like a scroll. The Timeless, the Infinite, like a burst of clear ether, an azure expanse washed of clouds, lures on the delighted spirit, tranced in ecstasy.

For the symbol of this universe and of man's destiny is not the prolongation of a line, nor of groups of lines organically co-ordinate, but, as it were, a sphere shapen from within and moulded by that Presence whose immanence, ever intensifying, is the Thought which time realizes as the Deed. Man looks to the future and the coming of Eternity. How shall the Eternal come or the Infinite be far off? Behold, the Eternal is now, and the Infinite is here. And if the high-upreared architecture of the stars, and the changing fabric of the worlds, be but shadows, and the pageantry of time but a dream, yet the dreamer and the dream are God.

If all be Illusion, yet this faith that all is Illusion can be none. There the realm of Illusion ends, here Reality begins. And thus the spirit of man, having touched the mother-abyss, arises victorious in defeat to fix its gaze at last, steadfast and calm, upon the Eternal.

Such is the distinction of the Fourth Age, whose light is all about us, flooding in from the eastern windows yonder like a great dawn. Man's spirit, tutored by lost illusion after lost illusion, advances to an ever deeper reality. The race, too, like the individual and the nation, is subject to the Law of Tragedy. Once more, in the way of a thousand years, it knows that it is not in time, nor in any cunning manipulation or extension of the things of time, that Man the Timeless can find the word which sums his destiny, and spurning at the phantoms of space, save as they grant access to the Spaceless, casts itself back upon God, and in art, thought, and action pierces to the Infinite through the finite.

This mystic attribute, this elan of the soul, discovers a fellowship in thinkers wide apart in circumstance and mental environment. It is, for instance, the trait which Schopenhauer, Tourgenieff,[7] Flaubert, and Carlyle possess in common[8]. These men are not as others of their time, but prophet voices that announce the Fourth, the latest Age, whose dawn has laid its hand upon the eastern hills.

The restless imagination of Flaubert, fused from the blood of the Norsemen, plunges into one period after another, Carthage, the Rome of the Caesars, Syria, Egypt, and Galilee, the unchanging East, and the monotony in change of the West, pursuing the one Vision in many forms, the Vision which leads on Carlyle from stage to stage of a course curiously similar. Flaubert has a wider range and more varied sympathies than Carlyle, and in intensity of vision occasionally surpasses him. Both are mystics, visionaries, from their youth; but in ethics Flaubert seems to attain at a bound the point of view which the dragging years alone revealed to Carlyle.

The chapter on the death of Frederick the Great reads like a passage from the Correspondance of Flaubert in his first manhood. In Saint Antoine, Flaubert found the secret of the same mystic inspiration as Carlyle found in Cromwell. To the brooding soul of the hermit, as to that of the warrior of Jehovah, what is earth, what are the shapes of time? Man's path is to the Eternal—dem Grabe hinan—and from the study of the Revolution of 1848 Flaubert arises with the same embittered insight as marks the close of "Frederick the Great."

And if, in such later works as Flaubert's Bouvard et Pecuchet and the Latter-Day Pamphlets of Carlyle, only the difference between the two minds is apparent, the difference is, after all, but a difference in temperament. It is the contrast between the impassive aloofness of the artist, and the personal and intrusive vehemence of the prophet.

The structural thought, the essential emotion of the two works are the same—the revolt of a soul whose impulses are ever beyond the finite and the transient, against a world immersed in the finite and the transient. Hence the derision, the bitter scorn, or the laughter with which they cover the pretensions, the hypocrisies, the loud claims of modern science and mechanical invention. But whether surveyed with contemplative calm, or proclaimed with passionate remonstrance to an unheeding generation, the life vision of these two men is one and the same—"the eternities, the immensities."[9]

And this same passion for the infinite is the informing thought of Wagner's tone-dramas and Tschaikowsky's symphonies. Love's mystery is deepened by the mystery of death, and its splendour has an added touch by the breath of the grave. The desire of the infinite greatens the beauty of the finite and lights its sanctuary with a supernatural radiance. All knowledge there becomes wonder. Truth is not known, but the soul is there in very deed possessed by the Truth, and is one with it eternally.

Ibsen's protest against limited horizons, against theorists, formulists, social codes, conventions, derives its justice from the worthlessness of those conventions, codes, theories, in the light of the infinite. The achievements in art most distinctive of the present age—the paintings of Courbet, Whistler, Degas, for instance—proclaim the same creative principle, the unsubstantiality of substance, the immateriality of matter, the mutability of all that seems most fixed, the unreality of all things, save that which was once the emblem of unreality, the play of line and colour, and their impression upon the retina of the eye. "If I live to be a hundred, I shall be able to draw a line," said Hokousai. It was as if he had said, "I shall be able to create a world."

The pressing effects of Imperialism in such an environment, its swift influences upon the life of an age thus conditioned, thus sharply defined from all preceding ages, are of an import which it would be hard to over-estimate. The nation undowered with such an ideal, menaced with extinction or with a gradual depression to the rank of a protected nationality, passes easily, as in France and Holland and in the higher grades of Russian society, to the side of political and commercial indifferentism, of artistic or literary cosmopolitanism.

But to a race dowered with the genius for empire, it rescues politics from the taint of local or transient designs, and imparts to public affairs and the things of State that elevation which was their characteristic in the Rome of Virgil and the England of Cromwell. For not only the life of the individual, but the life of States, is by this conception robed in something of its initial wonder. These, the individual and the State, as we have seen, are but separate phases, aspects of one thought, that thought which in the Universe is realized.

And the transformations in man's conception of his relations to the divine are in turn fraught with consequence to the ideal of imperialism itself. Life is greatened. The ardour of the periods of history most memorable awakens again in man, the reverence of the Middle Age, the energy of the Renaissance. A higher mood than that of the England of Cromwell has arisen upon the England of to-day. Man's true peace is not in the finite, but in the infinite; yet in the finite there is a work to be done, with the high disregard of a race which looks, not to the judgment of men, but of angels, whose appeal is not to the opinion of the world, but of God.

Here at the close of a century, side by side existing are two ideals, one political, the other religious, "a divine philosophy of the mind," in Algernon Sidney's phrase—how can the issue and event be other than auspicious to this empire and to this generation of men? As Puritanism seemed born for the ideal of Constitutional England, so this ideal of the Fourth Epoch seems born to be the faith of Imperial England. Behind Cromwell's armies was the faith of Calvin, the philosophy of the "Institutes"; behind the French Revolution the thought of Rousseau and Voltaire; but in this ideal, a thought, a speculative vision, deeper, wider in range than Calvin's or Rousseau's, is, with every hour that passes, adding a serener life, an energy more profound.


Carlyle's exaltation of the "deed" above the "word," of action above speech, does not exhaust its meaning in setting the man of deeds, the soldier or the politician, above the thinker or the artist. It is an affirmation of the glory of the sole Actor, the Dramatist of the World, the Demiourgos, whose actions are at once the deeds and the thoughts of men. "Im Anfang war die That." The "deed" is nearer the eternal fountain than the "word"; though, on the other hand, in this or that work of art there may converge more rays from the primal source than in this or that deed. In painting, that impressionism which loves the line for the line's sake, the tint for the tint's sake, owes its emotion, sincere or affected, to the same energy of the same divine thought as that from which the baser enthusiasm of the subject-painter flows. A consciousness of the same truth reveals itself in Wagner's lifelong struggle, splendidly heroic, to weld the art of arts into living, pulsing union with the "deed," the action and its setting, from which, in such a work as Tristan, or as Parsifal, that art's ecstasy or mystery derives.

In the great crises of the world the preliminary actions have always been indefinite, hesitating, or obscure. Indefiniteness is far from proving the insincerity or transiency of Imperialism as an ideal. "A man," says Oliver Cromwell, "never goes so far as when he does not know whither he is going." What Cromwell meant was that, in the great hours of life, the supernatural, the illimitable, thrusts itself between man and the limited, precise ends of common days. Upon such a subject Cromwell has the right to speak. Great himself, he was the cause of the greatness that was in others. But in all things it was still Jehovah that worked in him. Deeply penetrated with this belief, Cromwell had the gift of making his armies live his life, think his thought. Each soldier, horse or foot, was a warrior of God.

Man's severing, isolating intelligence is in these moments merged in the divine intelligence; but in subjection, then is it most free. The conscious is lost in the unconscious force which works behind the world. The individual will stands aside. The Will of the universe advances. Precision of design and purpose are shrouded in that dark background of Greek tragedy, on which the forms of gods and heroes, in mortal or immortal beauty, were sketched, subject in all their doings to this high, dread, and austere power.

So of empires, of races, and of nations. A race never goes so far as when it knows not whither it is going, when, rising in the consciousness of its destiny at last, and seeing as yet but a little way in front, it advances, performs that task as if it were its final task, as if no other task was reserved for it by time or by nature. Consciousness of destiny is the consciousness of the will of God and of the divine purposes. It is the identity of the desire of the race with the desire of the world-soul, and it moves towards its goal with the motion of tides and of planets.

Therefore when in thought we summon up remembrance of those empires of the past, Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, Hellas, Rome, and Islam, or those empires of nearer times, Charles's, Napoleon's, Akbar's, when we throw ourselves back in imagination across the night of time, endeavouring to live through their revolutions, and front with each in turn the black portals of the future—what image is this which of itself starts within the mind? Is it not the procession of the gladiators and the amphitheatre of Rome?

Rome beyond all races had the instinct of tragic grandeur in state and public life, and by that instinct even her cruelty is at times elevated through the pageantry or impressive circumstance amid which it is enacted. Does not this vault then, arching above us, appear but as a vast amphitheatre? And towards the mortal arena the empires of the world, one by one, defile past the high-upreared, dark, and awful throne where sits Destiny—the phalanx of Macedon, the Roman legion, the black banner of the Abbassides, the jewelled mail of Akbar's chivalry, and the Ottoman's crescent moon. And their resolution, serene, implacable, sublime, is the resolution of the gladiators, "Ave, imperator, morituri te salutant! Hail, Caesar, those about to die salute thee!"

And when the vision sinks, dissolving, and night has once more within its keeping cuirass and spear and the caparisons of war, the oppressed mind is beset as by a heavy sound, gathering up from the abysses, deeper, more dread and mysterious than the death-march of heroes—the funeral march of the empires of the world, the requiem of faiths, dead yet not dead, of creeds, institutions, religions, governments, laws—till through Time's shadows the Eternal breaks, in silence sweeter than all music, in a darkness beyond all light.


Yet with a resolution as deep-hearted as the gladiator's it is for another cause and unto other ends that the empires of the world have striven, fulfilled their destiny and disappeared, that this Empire of Britain now strives, fulfilling its destiny. Fixed in her resolve, the will of God behind her, whither is her immediate course? The narrow space of the path in front of her that is discernible even dimly—whither does it tend or appear to tend?

Empires are successive incarnations of the Divine ideas, and by a principle which, in its universality and omnipotence in the frame of Nature, seems itself an attribute of the Divine, the principle of conflict, these ideas realize their ends in and through conflict. The scientific form which it assumes in the hypothesis of evolution is but the pragmatic expression of this mystery. Here is the metaphysical basis of the Law of Tragedy, the profoundest law in human life, in human art, in human action. And thus that law, which, as I pointed out, throws a vivid light upon the first essential transformation in the life-history of a State dowered with empire, offers us its aid in interpreting the last transformation of all.

The higher freedom of man in the world of action, and reverie in the domain of thought, are but two aspects of the idea which Imperial Britain incarnates, just as Greek freedom and beauty were aspects of the idea incarnate in Hellas.

The spaces of the past are strewn with the wrecks of dead empires, as the abysses where the stars wander are strewn with the dust of vanished systems, sunk without a sound in the havoc of the aeons. But the Divine presses on to ever deeper realizations, alike through vanished races and through vanished universes.

Britain is laying the foundations of States unborn, civilizations undreamed till now, as Rome in the days of Tacitus was laying the foundations of States and civilizations unknown, and by him darkly imagined. For Justice men turn to the State in which Justice has no altar,[10] Freedom no temple; but a higher than Justice, and a greater than Freedom, has in that State its everlasting seat. Throughout her bounds, in the city or on the open plain, in the forest or in the village, under the tropic or in the frozen zone, her subjects shall find Justice and Freedom as the liberal air, so that enfranchised thus, and the unfettered use of all his faculties secured, each may fulfil his being's supreme law.

The highest-mounted thought, the soul's complete attainment, like the summits of the hills, can be the possession only of the few, but the paths that lead thither this empire shall open to the daring climber. Humanity has left the Calvinist and Jacobin behind. And thus Britain shall become the name of an ideal as well as the designation of a race, the description of an attitude of mind as well as of traits of blood.

Europe has passed from the conception of an outwardly composed unity of religion and government to the conception of the inner unity which is compatible with outward variations in creeds, in manners, in religions, in social institutions. Harmony, not uniformity, is Nature's end.

Dante, as the years advanced and the poet within him thrust aside the Ghibelline politician, the author of the De Monarchia, discerned this ever more clearly. Contemplating the empires of the past, he felt the Divine mystery there incarnate as profoundly as Polybius. In the fourteenth century he dares to see in the Roman people a race not less divinely missioned than the Hebrew. Though contemporary of the generation whose fathers had seen the Inquisition founded, yet like an Arab soufi, Dante, the poet of mediaevalism, points to the spot of light far-off, insufferably radiant, yet infinitely minute, the source and centre of all faiths, all creeds, all religions, of this universe itself, and all the desires of men. In an age which silenced the scholastics he founded Hell in the Ethics of Aristotle, as on a traced plan, and he who in his childhood had heard the story of the great defeat, and of the last of the crusading kings borne homewards on his bier, dares crest his Paradise with the dearest images of Arab poetry, the loveliness of flame and the sweetness of the rose.

What does this import, unless that already the mutual harmonies of the wide earth and of the stars had touched his listening soul, that already he who stayed to hear Casella sing heard far off a diviner music, the tones of the everlasting symphony played by the great Musician of the World, the chords whereof are the deeds of empires, the achievements of the heroes of humanity, and its most mysterious cadences are the thoughts, the faiths, the loftiest utterances of the mind of man?

And to the present age, what an exhortation is implicit in this thought of Dante's! No unity, no bond amongst men is so strong as that which is based on religion. Patriotism, class prejudices, ties of affection, all break before its presence. What a light is cast upon the deeper places of the human heart by the history of Jesuitism in the seventeenth century! Genius for religion is rare as other forms of genius are rare, yet both in the life of the individual and of the State its rank is primary. In the soul, religion marks the meridian of the divine. By its remoteness from or nearness to this the value of all else in life is tested. And there is nothing which a race will not more willingly surrender than its religion. The race which changes its religion is either very young, quick to reverence a greater race, and ardent for all experiment, or very old, made indifferent by experience or neglectful by despair.

In the conception at which she has at last arrived, and in her present attitude towards this force, Britain may justly claim to represent humanity. She combines the utmost reverence for her own faith with sympathetic intelligence for the faiths of others. And confronting her at this hour of the world's history is a task higher than the task of Akbar, and more auspicious. Akbar's design was indeed lofty, and worthy of that great spirit; but it was a hopeless design. The forms, the creeds which have been imposed from without upon a religion are no integral part of that religion's life. Even when by the progress of the years they have become transfused by the formative influences which time and the sufferings or the hopes of men supply, they change or are cast aside without organic convulsion or menace to the life itself. But the forms and embodiments which a divine thought in the process of its own irresistible and mighty growth assumes—these are beyond the touch of outer things, and evade the shaping hand of man. Inseparable from the thought which they, as it were, reincarnate, their life changes but with its life, and together they recede into the divine whence they came. The effort to extract the inmost truth, tearing away the form which by an obscure yet inviolate process has crystallized around it, is like breaking a statue to discover the loveliness of its loveliness. Akbar would have as quickly reached the creative thought, the idea enshrined in the Athene of Phidias, the immortal cause of its power, by destroying the form, as have severed the divine thought immanent in the Magian or Hindoo faiths from their integral embodiments.

But a greater task awaits Britain. Among the races of the earth whose fate is already dependent, or within a brief period will be dependent upon Europe, what empire is to aid them, moving with nature, to attain that harmony which Dante discerned? What empire, disregarding the mediaeval ideal, the effort to impose upon them systems, rites, institutions, creeds, to which they are by nature, by their history, by inherited pride in the traditions of the past, hostile or invincibly opposed, will adventure the new, the loftier enterprise of developing all that is permanent and divine within their own civilizations, institutions, rites, and creeds? Nature and the dead shall lend their unseen but mighty alliance to such purposes! Thus will Britain turn to the uses of humanity the valour or the fortune which has brought the religions of India and the power of Islam beneath her sway.

The continents of the world no longer contain isolated races severed from each other by the barriers of nature, mutual ignorance, or the artifices of man, but vast masses, moving into ever-deepening intimacies, imitations, mutually influenced and influencing. Man grows conscious to himself as one, and to represent this consciousness on the round earth, as Rome did once represent it on this half the world, to be amongst the races of all the earth what Hildebrand dreamed the Normans might be amongst the nations of Europe, is not this a task exalted enough to quicken the most sluggish zeal, the most retrograde "patriotism"? For without such mediation, misunderstanding, envy, hate, mistrust still erect barriers between the races of mankind more impassable than continents or seas or the great wall of Ch'in Chi. This is a part not for the future merely, it is one to which Britain is already by her past committed. The task is great, for between civilization and barbarism, the vanguard and the rearguard of humanity, suspicion, rivalry, and war are undying. From this the Greek division of mankind into Hellenes and Barbarians derives whatever justice it possesses.

In those directions and towards those high endeavours amongst the subjects within her own dominion, and thence amongst the races and religions of the world, the short space that is illumined of the path in front of Britain does unmistakably lead. Every year, every month that passes, is fraught with import of the high and singular destiny which awaits this realm, this empire, and this race. The actions, the purposes of other empires and races, seem but to illustrate the actions, the purposes of this empire, and the distinction of its relations to Humanity.

Faithful to her past, in conflict for this high cause, if Britain fall, it will at least be as that hero of the Iliad fell, "doing some memorable thing." Were not this nobler than by overmuch wisdom to incur the taunt, propter vitam vivendi perdere causas, or that cast by Dante at him who to fate's summons returned "the great refusal," a Dio spiacenti ed a'nemici sui, "hateful to God and to the enemies of God"? The nations of the earth ponder our action at this crisis, and by our vacillation or resolution they are uplifted or dejected; whilst, in their invisible abodes, the spirits of the dead of our race are in suspense till the hazard be made and the glorious meed be secured, in triumph or defeat, to eternity.

There are crises in history when it is not merely fitting to remember the dead. Their deeds live with us continually, and are not so much things remembered, as integral parts of our life, moulding the thought of every hour. In such crises a Senate of the dead were the truest counsellors of the living, for they alone could with convincing eloquence plead the cause of the past and of the generations that are not yet. Warriors, crusaders, patriots, statesmen-soldiers or statesmen-martyrs, it was for things which are not yet that they died, and to an end which, though strongly trusting, they but dimly discerned that they laid the foundations of this Empire. Masters of their own fates, possessors of their own lives, they gave them lightly as pledges unredeemed, and for men and things of which they were not masters or possessors. But they set higher store on glory than on life, and valued great deeds above length of days. They loved their country, dying for it, yet did it seem as if it were less for England than for that which is the excellence of man's life and the very emergence of the divine within such life, that they fought and fell. And this great inheritance of fame and of valour is but ours on trust, the fief inalienable of the dead and of the generations to come.

And now, behold from their martyr graves Russell, Sidney, Eliot arise, and with phantom fingers beckon England on! From the fields of their fate and their renown, see Talbot and Falkland, Wolfe and de Montfort arise, regardful of England and her action at this hour. And lo! gathering up from the elder centuries, a sound like a trumpet-call, clear-piercing, far-borne, mystic, ineffable, the call to battle of hosts invisible, the mustering armies of the dead, the great of other wars—Brunanburh and Senlac, Crecy, Flodden, Blenheim and Trafalgar. Their battle-cries await our answer—the chivalry's at Agincourt, "Heaven for Harry, England and St. George!", Cromwell's war-shout, which was a prayer, at Dunbar, "The Lord of Hosts! The Lord of Hosts!"—these await our answer, that response which by this war we at last send ringing down the ages, "God for Britain, Justice and Freedom to the world!"

Such witness of the dead is both a challenge and a consolation; a challenge, to guard this heritage of the past with the chivalry of the future, nor bate one jot of the ancient spirit and resolution of our race; a consolation, in the reflection that from a valour at once so remote and so near a degenerate race can hardly spring.

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