The Origins and Destiny of Imperial Britain - Nineteenth Century Europe
by J. A. Cramb
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

King Eadwine sits in council to discuss the message of Christ, the mansions that await the soul of man, the promise of a life beyond death; and Coifi, one of the councillors, rising, speaks thus: "So seemeth to me the life of man, O King, as when in winter-tide, seated with your thanes around you, out of the storm that rages without a sparrow flies into the hall, and fluttering hither and thither a little, in the warmth and light, passes out again into the storm and darkness. Such is man's life, but whence it cometh and whither it goeth we know not." "We ne kunnen," as Alfred the Great, its first translator, ends the passage. Who does not see—notwithstanding the difference of time, place, character, and all stage circumstance—who does not see rise before him the judgment-hall of Socrates, hear the solemn last words to his judges: "I go to death, and you to life, but which of us goeth to the better is known to God alone—adelon panti plen e to theo"?

Such is the stern and high manner in which this conflict in England between the religions of Woden and Christ is conducted. There in the seventh century is the depth of heart, the energy of soul, the pity and the insight which appear in other forms in after ages. The roll of English names in the Acta Sanctorum is the living witness of the sincerity, the intensity with which the same men who fought to the death for Woden at the Winwaed, or speculated with Coifi on the eternal mystery, accepted the faith which Rome taught, the ideal from Galilee transmuted by Roman imagination, Roman statesmanship. The Saintly Ideal lay on them like a spell: earth existed but to die in, life was given but to pray for death. Rome taught the Saxon and the Jute that all they had hitherto prayed for, glory in battle, earthly power and splendour, must be renounced, and become but as the sound of bells from a city buried deep beneath the ocean. Instead of defiance, Rome taught them reverence; instead of pride, self-abasement; instead of the worship of delight, the worship of sorrow. In this faith the Saxon and the Jute strove with tragic seriousness to live. But the old faith died hard, or lived on side by side with the new, far into the Middle Age. Literature reflects the inner struggles of the period: the war-song of Brunanburh, the mystic light which hangs upon the verses of Caedmon, the melancholy of Cynewulf's lyrics. Yet what a contrast is the England delineated by Bede with Visigothic Spain, with Lombard Italy, or Frankish Gaul, as delineated by Gregory of Tours!

Thus these Angles, Jutes, and Saxons, slowly disciplining themselves to the new ideal—to them in the ninth century come the Vikings. They are not less conspicuous in valour, nor less profoundly sensitive to the wonder and mystery of life, the poets in other lands of the Eddas and of the Northern Myths. England as we know it is not yet formed. Amongst the formative influences of English religion and English freedom, and ultimately of this ideal of modern times, must be reckoned the Viking and the Norseman, the followers of Guthrum, of Ivar, of Hrolf, not less than the followers of Cerdic and of Cymric. To the religious consciousness of the Jutes, Angles and Saxons, the Vikings bring a religious consciousness as deep and serious. The struggle against the Danes and Normans is not a struggle of English against foreigners; it is a conflict for political supremacy amongst men of the same race, who ultimately grow together into the England of the fourteenth century. In the light of the future, the struggle of the ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries does but continue the conflicts of the Heptarchic kings. To this land of England the Vikings have the right which the followers of Cerdic and Cynric had—the right of supremacy, the right which the will to possess it and the resolution to die for that will, confers.


The religion of the Vikings was the converse of their courage. Aristotle remarks profoundly that the race which cannot quit itself like a man in war cannot do any great thing in philosophy. Religion is the philosophy of the warrior. And the scanty records of the Vikings, the character of Knut, for instance, or that of the Conqueror, attest the principle that the thoughts of the valiant about God penetrate more deeply than the thoughts of the dastard. The Normans, who close the English Welt-wanderung, who close the merely formative period of England, illustrate this conspicuously. If the sombre fury of the Winwaed displays the stern depths of religious conviction in the vanguard of our race, if the Eddas and Myths argue a religious earnestness not less deep in the Vikings, the high seriousness of the religious emotion of the Norseman is not less clearly attested. Europe of the eleventh century holds three men, each of heroic proportions, each a Teuton in blood—Hildebrand, Robert Guiscard, and William the Conqueror. In intellectual vision, in spiritual insight, Hildebrand has few parallels in history. He is the founder of the Mediaeval Papacy, realizing in its orders of monks, priests, and crusaders a State not without singular resemblances to that which Plato pondered. Like Napoleon and like Buonarroti, Hildebrand had the power, during the execution of one gigantic design, of producing others of not less astonishing vastness, to reinforce or supplant the first should it fail. One of his designs originated in the impression which Norman genius made upon him. It was to transform this race, the tyrants of the Baltic and the English seas, the dominators of the Mediterranean and the Aegean, into omnipresent emissaries and soldiers of the theocratic State whose centre was Rome. But the vastness of his original design broke even the mighty will of Hildebrand; his purpose with regard to the Norseman remains like some abandoned sketch by Buonarroti or Tintoretto. Yet no ruler of men had a profounder knowledge of character, and with the Viking nature circumstance had rendered him peculiarly familiar. The judgment of Orderic and of William of Malmesbury confirms the impression of Hildebrand. But the Normans have been their own witnesses, the cathedrals which they raised from the Seine to the Tyne are epics in stone, inspired by no earthly muse, fit emblems of the rock-like endurance and soaring valour of our race.

There is a way of writing the history of Senlac which Voltaire, Thierry, Michelet, and Guizot dote upon, infecting certain English historians with their complacency, as if the Norse Vikings were the descendants of Chlodovech, and the conquest of England were the glory of France. The absurdity was crowned in 1804, when Napoleon turned the attention of his subjects to the history of 1066, as an auspicious study for the partners of his great enterprise against the England of Pitt! How many Franks, one asks, followed the red banner of the Bastard to Senlac, or, leaning on their shields, watched the coronation at Westminster? Nor was it in the valley of the Seine that the Norsemen acquired their genius for religion, for government, for art. To the followers of Hrolf the empire of Charlemagne had the halo which the Empire of Rome had to the followers of Alaric, and in that spirit they adopted its language and turned its laws to their own purposes. But Jutes and Angles and Saxons, Ostmen and Danes, were, if less assiduous, not less earnest pupils in the same school as the Norsemen: to all alike, the remnant of the Frankish realm of Charles lay nearest, representing Rome and the glory of the Caesars. Nature and her affinities drew the Normans to the West, across the salt plains whither for six hundred years the most adventurous of their own blood had preceded them. They closed the movement towards the sunset which Jute and Saxon began; they are the last, the youngest, and in politics the most richly gifted; yet in other departments of human activity not more richly gifted than their kindred who produced Cynewulf and Caedmon, Aidan and Bede, Coifi and Dunstan. And who shall affirm from what branch of the stock the architects of the sky-searching cathedrals sprang?

Senlac is thus in the line of Heptarchic battles; it is the last struggle for the political supremacy over all England amongst those various sections of the Northern races who in the way of six hundred years make England, and who in their religious and political character lay the unseen foundations of Imperial Britain.

Two traits of the Norman character impress the greatest of their contemporary historians, William of Malmesbury—the Norman love of battle and the Norman love of God. Upon these two ideas the history of the Middle Age turns. The crusader, the monk, the troubadour, the priest, the mystic, the dreamer and the saint, the wandering scholar and the scholastic philosopher, all derive thence. Chivalry is born. The knight beholds in his lady's face on earth the image of Our Lady in Heaven, the Virgin-Mother of the Redeemer of men. From the grave of his dead mistress Ramon Lull withdraws to a hermit's cell to ponder the beauty that is imperishable; and over the grave of Beatrice, Dante rears a shrine, a temple more awful, more sublime than any which even that age has carved in stone.

Into this theatre of tossing life, the nation which the followers of Cerdic and Knut and of William the Conqueror have formed enters greatly. In thought, in action, in art, something of the mighty role which the future centuries reserve for her is portended. The immortal energy, the love of war, the deep religious fervour of England find in the Crusades, as by God's own assignment, the task of her heart's desire. We have but to turn to the churches of England, to study the Templars carved upon their sepulchres, to know that in that great tournament of the world the part of the Franks, if the noisier and more continuous, was not more earnest. How singular is the chance, if it be chance, which confronts the followers of the new faith with a Penda, and the followers of the crescent with a Richard Lion-heart! Upon the shifting Arabic imagination he alone of the infidels exercises enduring sway. The hero of Tasso has no place in Arab history, but the memory of Richard is there imperishably. Richard's services to England are not the theme of common praise, yet, if we estimate the greatness of a king by another standard than roods of conquered earth, or roods of parchment blackened with unregarded statutes, Richard I, crusader and poet, must be reckoned amongst the greatest of his great line, and his name to the Europe of the Middle Age was like the blast of a trumpet announcing the England of the years to come.


The crusader of the twelfth century follows the saint of an earlier age, and in the thirteenth, England, made one in political and constitutional ideals, attains a source of profounder religious unity. The consciousness that not to Rome, but to Galilee itself she may turn for the way, the truth, the light, has arisen. In the steady development, in the ever-deepening power of this consciousness, lies the unwritten history of the English Reformation. The race resolves no more to trust to other witness, but with its own eyes to look upon the truth.

Political history has its effect upon the growth of this conviction. In the fourteenth century, for instance, the Papacy is at Avignon. Edward I in the beginning of that century withstands Boniface VIII, the last great pontiff in whom the temper and resolution of Hildebrand appear, as William the Conqueror had withstood Gregory VII. The statute of praemunire, a generation later, prepares the way for Wyclif. The Papacy is now but an appanage of the Valois monarchs. How shall England, conqueror of those monarchs at Crecy and on other fields, reverence Rome, the dependent of a defeated antagonist?

The same bright energy of the soul, the same awe, rooted in the blood of our race, which manifest themselves in the early and Middle Ages, determine the character of the religious history of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the fifteenth century, suffering and the presence of suffering, the law of tragedy of which we have spoken, add their transforming power to spiritual life. As in political life the sympathy with the wrongs of others grows into imaginative justice, so sympathy with the faiths of others, which springs from the consciousness of the first great illusion lost, and sorrow for a vanished ideal, grows into tolerance for the creeds and religions of others. For only a race deep-centred in its own faith, yet sensitive to the faith that is in others, can understand the religion of others; only such a race can found an empire characterized at once by freedom and by faith.

The very ardour of the belief of the race in the ideal from Rome—a Semitic ideal, transmuted by Roman genius and policy—swept the Teutonic imagination beyond the ideal, seeking its sources where Rome herself had sought them. This is the impulse which binds the whole English Reformation, the whole movement of English religious thought from Wyclif to Cromwell and Milton, to Wordsworth and Carlyle. It is this common impulse of the race which Henry VIII relies upon, and because he is in this their leader the English people forgets his absolutism, his cruel anger, his bloody revenges.

The character of the English Reformation after the first tumultuous conflicts, the fierce essays of royal theocracy and Jesuit reactionism, set steadily towards Liberty of Conscience.

This spirit is glorified in Puritanism, the true heroic age of the Reformation. It appears, for example, in Oliver Cromwell himself. Cromwell is one of the disputed figures in our history, and every English historian has drawn his own Cromwell. But to foreign historians we may look for a judgment less partial, less personal. Dr. Doellinger, for instance, to whom wide sympathy and long and profound study of history have given the right, which can only be acquired by vigil and fasting, to speak about the characters of the past—he who by his position as Romanist is no pledged admirer, describes Cromwell as the "prophet of Liberty of Conscience."[2] This is the deliberate judgment of Doellinger. It was the judgment of the peasants of the Vaudois two hundred and fifty years ago! Somewhat the same impression was made by Cromwell upon Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and Guizot.

Again in the seventeenth century, in the Irene of Drummond, and in the remarkable work of Barclay, the Argenis,[3] in its whole conception of the religious {72} life, of monasticism, as in its idealization of the character of the great Henri Quatre, you find the same desire for a wider ideal, not less in religion than in politics. We encounter it later in Shaftesbury and in Locke. It is the essential thought of the work of Thomas Hobbes. It is supremely and beautifully expressed in Algernon Sidney, the martyr of constitutional freedom and of tolerance.

And what is the faith of Algernon Sidney? One who knew him well, though opposed to his party, said of him, "He regards Christianity as a kind of divine philosophy of the mind." Community of religious not less than of political aims binds closer the friendship of Locke and Shaftesbury. In the preparation of a constitution for the Carolinas they found the opportunity which Corsica offered to Rousseau. In the Letters on Toleration[4] Locke did but expand the principles upon which, with Shaftesbury's aid, he elaborated the government of the new State. The Record Office has no more precious document than the draught of that work, the margins covered with corrections in the handwriting of these two men, the one the greatest of the Restoration statesmen, the other ranking amongst the greatest speculative thinkers of his own or any age. One suggested formula after another is traceable there, till at length the decision is made, that from the citizens of the new State shall be exacted, not adherence to this creed or to that, but simply the declaration, "There is a God." Algernon Sidney aids Penn in performing a similar task for Pennsylvania, and their joint work is informed by the same spirit as the "Constitutions" of Locke and Shaftesbury.

Thus in religion the men of the seventeenth century occupy a position analogous to their position in politics, already delineated. In politics, as we have seen, they establish a constitutional government, and make sure the path to the wider freedom of the future. In religion they fix the principles of that philosophic tolerance which the later centuries develop and apply. Both in politics and in religion they turn aside from the mediaeval imperialism of Bourbon and Hapsburg, consciously or unconsciously preparing the foundations of the Imperialism of to-day.

If the divines, scholars, poets, and wits who met and talked under the roof of the young Lord Falkland at Tew represent in their religious and civil perplexities the spirit of the seventeenth century, within the intersecting circles of Pope and Bolingbroke, Swift and Addison, may be found in one form or another all the varied impulses of the eighteenth—intellectual, political, scientific, literary, or religious. England had succeeded to the place which Holland filled in the days of Descartes and Spinoza—the refuge of the oppressed, the home of political and religious freedom, the study of Montesquieu, the asylum of Voltaire.[5] Yet between the England of the eighteenth and the England of the seventeenth century there is no such deep gulf fixed as Carlyle at one period of his literary activity imagined. The one is the organic inevitable growth of the other. The England which fought at Blenheim, Fontenoy, and Quebec is the same England as fought at Marston Moor and Dunbar. Chatham rescued it from a deeper abasement than that into which it had fallen in the days of the Cavalier parliaments, and it followed him to heights unrecked of by Cromwell. Nor is the religious character of the century less profound, less earnestly reverent, when rightly studied. Even its scepticism, its fiery denials, or vehement inquiry—a Woolston's, for instance, or a Cudworth's, like a Shelley's or a James Thomson's[6] long afterwards—spring from no love of darkness, but from the immortal ardour for the light, for Truth, even if there come with it silence and utter death. And from this same ardour arises that extraordinary outburst of varied intellectual and religious effort, critical or constructive, which makes the Revolutionary and the Georgian eras comparable in energy, if not in height of speculative inquiry, to the great period of the Aufklaerung in Germany. Kant acknowledged his indebtedness to Hume. Rousseau, Voltaire, Condillac, and Helvetius are in philosophic theory but pupils of Locke.

Towards the close of the century appeared Gibbon's great work, the Decline and Fall, a prose epic in seventy-one books, upon the last victories, the last triumphs, and the long, reluctant death-struggles of the Roman Empire, the insidious advance of inner decay, the ever-renewed assaults of foreign violence, the Goth, the Saracen, the Mongol, and at the close, the leaguering lines of Mahomet, the farewell to the Greeks of the last of the Constantines, the Ottomans in the palaces of the Caesars, and the melancholy musings of an Italian scholar over the ruins on the Seven Hills. An epic in prose—and every one of its books might be compared to the gem-encrusted hilt of a sword, and each wonderfully wrought jewel is a sentence; but the point of the sword, like that of the cherubim, is everywhere turned against superstition, bigotry, and religious wrong.

David Hume's philosophy was more read[7] in France than in Scotland or England, but Hume wrote one book here widely read, his History of England. It has been superseded, but it did what it aimed at doing. There are certain books which, when they have done their work, are forgotten, the Dialectique of Ramus, for instance. This is not to be regretted. Hume's History of England is one of these books. For nearly four generations it was the only History of England that English men and women read. It was impossible that a man like Hume, the central principle of whose life was the same as that of Locke, Shaftesbury, Gibbon—the desire for a larger freedom for man's thought—it was impossible for him to write without saturating every page with that purpose, and it was impossible that three generations could read that History without being insensibly, unconsciously transformed, their aspirations elevated, their judgments moulded by contact with such a mind as that of Hume.

Recently the work of the great intellects of these two centuries bears fruit in our changed attitude towards Ireland, in the emancipation of the Catholics there; in our changed attitude towards the Jews, towards the peoples of India, towards Islam. Edward Gibbon and Hume laid the foundation of that college which is rising at Khartoum for the teaching of Mohammedanism under the Queen. It was not only Lord Kitchener who built it; John Locke, John Milton built it.

The saint, the crusader, the monk, reformer, puritan, and nonjuror lead in unbroken succession to the critic, the speculative thinker, the analytic or synthetic philosopher of the eighteenth and the nineteenth century, these representing Imperial Britain, as the former represent national or feudal England. Erigena in the ninth century surveying all things as from a tall rock, Dunstan, Roger Bacon wasting in a prison "through the incurable stupidity of the world," as he briefly explains it, Michael Scott, Hooker, Bacon, Glanvil, Milton, and Locke, formed by England, these men have in turn guided or informed the highest aspirations, the very heart of the race. The greatest empire in the annals of mankind is at once the most earnestly religious and the most tolerant. Her power is deep-based as the foundations of the rocks, her glance wide as the boundaries of the world, far-searching as the aeons of time.

Yet it is not only from within, but from without, that this transformation in the spirit of England has been effected; not only from within by the work of a Sidney, a Gibbon, but from without by the influence, imperceptible yet sure, of the faiths and creeds of the Oriental peoples she conquers. The work of the Arabists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such men as the Pocockes,[8] father and son, Ockley and Sale, supplements or expands the teaching of Locke and of Hume. The industry of Ross, the enthusiastic studies of Sir William Jones, brought the power of Persian and Indian thought to bear upon the English mind, and the efforts of all these men seem to converge in one of the greatest literary monuments of the present century—The Sacred Books of the East.

Thus then we have seen this immortal "energy of the soul" in religion and thought, as in politics, manifest itself in like aspirations towards imaginative freedom, the higher freedom and the higher justice, summed in the phrase "Elargissez Dieu," that man's soul, dowered with the unfettered use of all its faculties, may set towards the lodestar of its being, harmony with the Divine, whether it be through freedom in religious life or in political life or in any other form of life. For all life, all being, is organic, ceaselessly transformed, ceaselessly transforming, ceaseless action and interaction, like that vision of Goethe's of the golden chalices ascending and descending perpetually between heaven and this dark earth of ours.


Before leaving this part of our subject, the testimony of the past, there is one more question to consider, though with brevity. The great empires or imperial races of the past, Hellas, Rome, Egypt, Persia, Islam, represent each a distinct ideal—in each a separate aspect of the human soul, as the characterizing attribute of the race, seems incarnate. In Hellas, for example, it is Beauty, to kalon; in Rome, it is Power; in Egypt, Mystery, as embodied in her temples, half-underground, or in the Sphinx that guards the sepulchres of her kings; whilst in Persia, Beauty and Aspiration seem to unite in that mystic curiosity which is the feature at once of her religion, her architecture, her laws, of Magian ritual and Gnostic theurgy. Other races possess these qualities, love of beauty, the sense of mystery; but in Hellas and in Egypt they differentiate the race and all the sections of the race.

What characteristic, then, common to the whole Teutonic race, does this Empire of Britain represent? Apart altogether from its individual ideal, political or religious, what attribute of the race, distinguishing it from other races, the Hellenic, the Roman, the Persian, does it eminently possess?

Compare, first of all, the beginnings of the people of England with the beginnings of the Hellenic people, or better, perhaps, with the beginnings of Rome. Who founded the Roman State? There is one fact about which the most recent authorities agree with the most ancient, that Rome was founded much as Athens was founded, by desperate men from every city, district, region, in Italy. The outlaw, the refugee from justice or from private vengeance, the landless man and the homeless man—these gathered in the "Broad Plain," or migrated together to the Seven Hills, and by the very extent of the walk which they traced marked the plan which the Rome of the Caesars filled in. This process may have extended over a century—over two centuries; Rome drawing to itself ever new bands of adventurers, desperate in valour and in fortune as the first. Who are the founders of England, of Imperial Britain? They are those "co-seekers," conqu[oe]stores, I have spoken of, who came with Cerdic and with Cynric, the chosen men, that is to say, the most adventurous, most daring, most reckless—the fittest men of the whole Teutonic kindred; and not for two centuries merely, but for six centuries, this "land of the Angles," stretching from the Forth and Clyde to the Channel, from Eadwine's Burgh to Andredeswald, draws to itself, and is gradually ever peopled closer and closer with, Vikings and Danes, Norsemen and Ostmen, followers of Guthrum, and followers of Hrolf, followers of Ivar and followers of William I. They come in "hundreds," they come in thousands. Into England, as into some vast crucible, the valour of the earth pours itself for six hundred years, till, molten and fused together, it arises at last one and undivided, the English Nation. Such was the foundation, such the building of the Empire, and these are the title-deeds which even in its first beginnings this land can show.

And of the inner race character as representative of the whole Teutonic kindred, the testimony is not less sure. What a heaven of light falls upon the Hellas of the Isles, that period of its history which does not begin, but ends with the Iliad and with the Odyssey—works that sum up an old civilization! Already is born that beauty which, whether in religion, or in art, or in life, Hellas made its own for ever. And it is not difficult to trace back the descent of the ideal of Virgil and of Cicero to the shepherds and outlaws of the Seven Hills. The infinite curiosity of Persia, the worshipper of flame, is anticipated on its earliest monuments, and the mystery of Egypt is coeval with its first appearance in history. But of England and the Teutonic race what shall one say? A characteristic universal in Teutonic history is the extent to which the speculative or metaphysical pervades the practical, the political, and social conditions of life. Freedom and deathless courage are its inheritance; but these throughout its history are accompanied by certain vaguer tendencies of thought and aspiration, the touch of things unseen, those impulses beyond the finite towards the Infinite, which display themselves so conspicuously in later ages. In the united power of these two worlds, the visible and the invisible, upon the Teutonic imagination, in this alternate sway of Reality and Illusion, must be sought the characteristic of this race. In the Faust legend, which, in one form or another, the race has made its own, it attains a supreme embodiment. In the Oriental imagination the sense of the transiency of life passes swiftly into a disdain for life itself, and displays itself in a courage which arises less from hope than from apathy or despair. But the death-defiant courage of the Viking springs from no disdain of life, but from the scorn of death, hazarding life rather than the hope upon which his life is set.

This characteristic can be traced throughout the range of Teutonic art and Teutonic literature, and even in action. The spirit which originates the Voelker-wanderung, for instance, reappears in the half-unconscious impulses, the instinctive bent of the race, which lead the brave of Europe generation by generation for two hundred years to the crusades. They found the grave empty, but the craving of the heart was stayed, the yearning towards Asgard, the sun-bright eastern land, where were Balder and the Anses, and the rivers and meadows unfading, whence ages ago their race had journeyed to the forest-gloom and mists by the Danube and the Rhine, by the Elbe and the Thames.

Thus, then, as Beauty is impersonated in Hellas, Mystery in Egypt, so this attribute which we may name Reverie is impersonated in the Teutonic race.

And in the Anglo-Saxon branch of the great Teutonic kindred, this attribute, this Reverie, the divided sway of the actual and of the dream-world, attests its presence and its power from the earliest epochs. It has left its impress, its melancholy, its restlessness, its infinite regret, upon the verse of Cynewulf and Caedmon, whilst in the devotion of the saint, the scholar, the hermit, and of much of the common life of the time to the ideal of Calvary, its presence falls like a mystic light upon the turbulence and battle-fury of the eighth and ninth centuries. It adds the glamour as from a distant and enchanted past to chivalrous romance and to the crusader's and the pilgrim's high endeavour. It cast its spell upon the Tudor mariners and made the ocean their inheritance. In later times it reappears as the world-impulse which has made our race a native of every climate, yet jealous of its traditions, proud of its birth, unsubdued by its environment.

If in the circuit they marked out for the walls of early Rome its first founders seemed to anticipate the eternal city, so on the high seas the founders of England, Jute, Viking, and Norseman seem to foreshadow the Empire of the World, and by the surge or in the forest solitude, already to meditate the terror, the sorrow, and the mystery, and the coming harmonies, of Faustus and Lear, of Hamlet and Adonais.

[1] I have retained the familiar spelling of the Saxon hero's name. Giesebrecht, who discovers in the stand against Charlemagne something of the spirit of Arminius, etwas vom Geiste Armins (D.K.I., p. 112), uses the form "Widukind," and the same form has the sanction of Waitz (Verfassungsgeschichte, iii, p. 120). Yet the form Widu-kind is probably no more than a chronicler's theory of the derivation of the name.

[2] Doellinger's characterization of Cromwell is remarkable—"Aber er (i.e., Cromwell) hat, zuerst unter den Maechtigen, ein religioeses Princip aufgestellt und, soweit sein Arm reichte, zur Geltung gebracht, welches, im Gegensatz gegen die grossen historischen Kirchen und gegen den Islam, Keim und Stoff zu einer abgesonderten Religion in sich trug:—das Princip der Gewissensfreiheit, der Verwerfung alles religioesen Zwanges." Proceeding to expand this idea, Doellinger again describes Cromwell as the annunciator of the doctrine of the inviolability of conscience, so vast in its significance to the modern world, and adds: "Es war damals von weittragender Bedeutung, dass der Beherrscher eines maechtigen Reiches diese neue Lehre verkuendete, die dann noch fast anderthalb Jahrhunderte brauchte, bis sie in der oeffentlichen Meinung so erstarkte, dass auch ihre noch immer zahlreichen Gegner sich vor ihr beugen muessen. Die Evangelische Union, welche jetzt zwei Welttheile umfasst und ein frueher unbekanntes und fuer unmoeglich gehaltenes Princip der Einigung verschiedener Kirchen gluecklich verwirklicht hat, darf wohl Cromwell als ihren Propheten und vorbereitenden Gruender betrachten."—Akademische Vortraege, 1891, vol. iii, pp. 55, 56.

[3] The Argenis was published in 1621; but amongst the ideas on religion, carefully elaborated or obscurely suggested, which throng its pages, we find curious anticipations of the position of Locke and even of Hume, just as in politics, in the remarks on elective monarchy put in the lips of the Cardinal Ubaldini, or in the conceptions of justice and law, Barclay reveals a sympathy with principles which appealed to Algernon Sidney or were long afterwards developed by Beccaria. In the motion of the stars Barclay sees the proof of the existence of God, and requires no other. The Argenis, unfortunately for English literature, was written at a time when men still wavered between the vernacular and Latin as a medium of expression.

[4] The spirit and tendency of Locke's work appear in the short preface to the English version of the Latin Epistola de Tolerantia, which had already met with a general approbation in France and Holland (1689). "This narrowness of spirit on all sides has undoubtedly been the principal occasion of our miseries and confusions. But whatever has been the occasion, it is now high time to seek for a thorough cure. We have need of more generous remedies than what have yet been made use of in our distemper. It is neither declarations of indulgence, nor acts of comprehension, such as have yet been practised, or projected amongst us, that can do the work. The first will but palliate, the second increase our evil. Absolute Liberty, just and true Liberty, equal and impartial Liberty, is the thing that we stand in need of." The second Letter, styled "A Second Letter concerning Toleration," is dated May 27th, 1690—the year of the publication of his Essay on the Human Understanding; the third, the longest, and in some respects the most eloquent, "A Third Letter for Toleration," bears the date June 20th, 1693.

[5] Voltaire ridiculed certain peculiarities of Shakespeare when mediocre French writers and critics began to find in his "barbarities" an excuse for irreverence at the expense of Racine, but he never tires of reiterating his admiration for the country of Locke and Hume, of Bolingbroke and Newton. A hundred phrases could be gathered from his correspondence extending over half a century, in which this finds serious or extravagant utterance. Even in the last decades of his life, when he sees the France of the future arising, he writes to Madame Du Deffand: "How trivial we are compared with the Greeks, the Romans, and the English"; and to Helvetius, about the same period (1765), he admits the profound debts which France and Europe owe to the adventurous thought of England. He even forces Frederick the Great into reluctant but definite acquiescence with his enthusiasm—"Yes, you are right; you French have grace, the English have the depth, and we Germans, we have caution."

[6] James Thomson, who distinguished himself from the author of the Seasons, and defined his own literary aims by the initials B. V., i.e., Bysshe Vonalis (Novalis), though possessing neither the wide scholarship nor the depth of thought of Leopardi, occasionally equals the great Italian in felicity of phrase and in the poignant expression of the world-sorrow. Several of the more violent pamphlets on religious themes ascribed to him are of doubtful authenticity. He died in 1882, the year after the death of Carlyle.

[7] Hume's disappointment at the reception accorded to the first quarto of his History of England must be measured by the standard of the hopes he had formed. Conscious of genius, and not without ambition, he had reached middle life nameless, and save in a narrow circle unacknowledged. But the appearance of his History, two years later than his Political Discourses, was synchronous with the darkest hours in English annals since 1667. An English fleet had to quit the Channel before the combined navies of France and Spain; Braddock was defeated at Fort Duquesne; Minorca was lost. At this period the tide of ill-feeling between the Scotch and the English ran bitter and high. The taunts of individuals were but the explosions of a resentment deep-seated and strong. London had not yet forgotten the panic which the march of the Pretender had roused. To the Scottish nation the massacre at Culloden seemed an act of revenge—savage, pre-meditated, and impolitic. The ministry of Chatham changed all this. He raised an army from the clans who ten years before had marched to the heart of England; ended the privileges of the coterie of Whig families, bestowing the posts of danger and power not upon the fearless but frequently incapable sons of the great houses, but upon the talent bred in the ranks of English merchants. Hume's work was thus caught in the stream of Chatham's victories, and a ray from the glory of the nation was reflected upon its historian. The general verdict was ratified by the concord of the best judgments. Gibbon despaired of rivalling its faultless lucidity; Burke turned from a projected History to write in Hume's manner the events of the passing years, founding the Annual Register. Its outspoken Toryism was welcome to a generation weary of the "Venetian oligarchy," this epoch, if any, meriting Beaconsfield's epithet. The work had the fortune which Gibbon and Montesquieu craved for their own—it was read in the boudoir as much as in the study. Nor did its power diminish. It contained the best writing, the deepest thought, the most vivid portraiture, devoted to men and things English, over a continuous period, until the works of Carlyle and Macaulay.

[8] The significance of these men's work may be estimated by the ignorance even of scholars and tolerant thinkers. Spinoza, for instance, in 1675, describes Islam as a faith that has known no schism; and twenty years earlier Pascal brands Mohammed as forbidding all study!





[Tuesday, May 29th, 1900]

Hitherto we have been engaged with the past, with the slow growth across the centuries of those political or religious ideals which now control the destinies of this Empire, a movement towards an ever higher conception of man's relations towards the Divine, towards other men, and towards the State. To-day a subject of more pressing interest confronts us, but a subject more involved also in the prejudices and sympathies which the violence of pity or anger, surprise or alarm, arouses, woven more closely to the living hopes, regrets, and fears which compose the instant of man's life. We are in the thick of the deed—how are we to judge it? How conjure the phantoms inimical to truth, which Tacitus found besetting his path as he prepared to narrate the civil struggles of Galba and Otho thirty years after the event?

Yet one aspect of the subject seems free and accessible, and to this aspect I propose to direct your attention. The separate incidents of the war, and the actions of individuals, statesmen, soldiers, politicians, journalists, and officials, civil or military, the wisdom or the rashness, the energy or the sloth, the wavering or the resolution, ancient experience grown half prophetic with the years, alert vigour, quick to perceive, unremitting in pursuit, or ingenuous surprise tardily awaking from the dream of a world which is not this—all these will fall within the domain of History some centuries hence when what men saw has been sifted from what they merely desired to see or imagined they saw.

But the place of the war in the general life of this State, and the purely psychological question, how is the idea of this war, in Plato's sense of that word, related to the idea of Imperial Britain?—these it is possible even now to consider, sine ira et studio. What is its historical significance compared with the wars of the past, what is the presage of this great war—if it be a great war—for the future?


Now the magnitude of a war does not depend upon the numbers, relative or absolute, of the opposing forces. Fewer men fell at Salamis than at Towton, and in the battle of Bedr[1] the total force engaged did not exceed two thousand, yet Mohammed's victory changed the history of the world. The followers of Andreas Hofer were but a handful compared with the army which marched with de Saxe to Toumay, but the achievement of the Tyrolese is enduring as Fontenoy. War is the supreme act in the life of a State, and it is the motives which impel, the ideal which is pursued, that determine the greatness or insignificance of that act. It is the cause, the principles in collision which make it for ever glorious, or swiftly forgotten. What, then, are the principles at issue in the present war?

The war in South Africa, as we saw in the opening lecture, is the first event or series of events upon a great scale, the genesis of which lies in this force named Imperialism. It is the first conspicuous expression of this ideal in the world of action—of heroic action, which now as always implies heroic suffering. No other war in our history is in its origins and its aims so evidently the realization, so exclusively the result of this imperial ideal. Whatever may have been the passing designs of the Government, lofty or trivial, whatever the motives of individual politicians, this is the cause and this the ideal by which, consciously or unconsciously, the decision of the State has been prescribed and controlled. But the present war is not merely a war for an idea, which of itself would be enough to make the war, in M. Thiers' refrain, digue de l'attention des hommes; but, like the wars of the sixteenth century or the French Revolutionary Wars, it is a war between two ideals, between two principles that strike deep into the life-history of modern States.

In the religious wars of the sixteenth century the principle of freedom was arrayed against the principle of authority. The conflict rolled hither and thither for two centuries, and was illustrated by the valour and genius of Europe, by characters and incidents of imposing grandeur, sublime devotion, or moving pity. So in the war of the French Revolution the dying principle of Monarchism was arrayed against the principle of Democracy, and the tragic heroism with which the combatants represented these principles, whether Austria, Russia, Spain, England, Germany, or France, makes that war one of the most precious memories of mankind.

In the tragedies of art, in stage-drama, the conflict, the struggle is between two principles, two forces, one base, the other exalted. But in the world-drama a conflict of a profounder kind reveals itself, the conflict between heroism and heroism, between ideal and ideal, often equally lofty, equally impressive.

Such is the eternal contrast between the tragic in Art and the tragic in History, and this characteristic of these two great conflicts of the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries reappears in the present war. There also two principles equally lofty and impressive are at strife—the dying principle of Nationality, and the principle which, for weal or woe, is that of the future, the principle of Imperialism. These are the forces contending against each other on the sterile veldt; this is the first act of the drama whose denouement—who dare foretell? What distant generation shall behold that curtain?


In political life, in the life-history of states, as in religious, as in intellectual and social history, change and growth, or what we now name Evolution, are perpetual, continuous, unresting. The empire which has ceased to advance has begun to recede. Motion is the law of its being, if not towards a fuller life, motion toward death. Thus in a race dowered with the genius for empire, as Rome was, as Britain is, Imperialism is the supreme, the crowning form, which in this process of evolution it attains. The civic, the feudal, or the oligarchic State passes into the national, the national into the imperial, by slow or swift gradations, but irresistibly, as by a fixed law of nature. No great statesman is ever in advance of, or ever behind, his age. The patriot is he who is most faithful to the highest form, to the actualized ideal of his time. Eliot in the seventeenth century died for the constitutional rights of a nation; in the thirteenth he would have stood with the feudal lords at Runnymede; in the nineteenth he would have added his great name to imperialism.

The national is thus but a phase in the onward movement of an imperial State, of a race destined to empire. In such a State, Nationality has no peculiar sanctity, no fixed, immutable influence, no absolute sway. The term National, indeed, has recently acquired in politics and in literature something of the halo which in the beginning of the century belonged to the idea of liberty alone. The part which it has played in Bohemia and Hungary, Belgium and Holland, Servia and Bulgaria, and, above all, in the unity of Italy and the realization after four centuries of Machiavelli's dream, is a living witness of its power. In the Middle Age the two ideas, nationality and independence, were inseparable, but with the completion of the State system of Europe, the rise of Prussia and the transformation of the half-oriental Muscovy into the Empire of the Czars, and with the growth in European politics of the Balance-of-Power[2] theory, a disruption occurred between these ideas, and a series of protected nationalities arose.

Indeed, as we recede from the event, the Revolution of 1848 presents itself ever more definitely as it appeared to certain of its actors, and to a few of the more speculative onlookers, as but an aftermath of 1789 and 1793, as the net return, the practical result to France and to Europe of the glorious sacrifices and hopes of the revolutionary era. Nationality was the occasion and the excuse of 1848; but the ideal was a shadow from the past. The men of that time do not differ more widely from the men of 1789 than Somers and Halifax differ from the great figures of the earlier revolution, Pym, Strafford, and Cromwell.[3] The amazing confusion which attends the efforts of French and German publicists to expand the concept of the Nation supports the evidence of history that the great role which it has played is transient and accidental, and that it is not the final and definite form towards which the life of a State moves. It is one thing to exalt the grandeur of this ideal for Italy or for France, but it is another to assume that it has final and equal grandeur in every land and to every State.

Nor are the endeavours of such writers as Mancini or Bluntschli to trace the principle of Nationality to the deepest impulses of man's life more auspicious. Not to Humanity, but to Imperial Rome, must be ascribed the origin of nationality as the prevailing form in the State system of modern Europe. For Roman policy was, so to speak, a Destiny, not merely to the present, but to the future world. Rome effaced the distinctions, the fretting discords of Celtic tribes, and traced the bounds of that Gallia which Meerwing and Karling, Capet and Bourbon, made it their ambition to reach, and their glory to maintain. To the cities of the Italian allies Rome granted immunities, privileges, of municipal independence; and from the gift, as from a seed of hate, grew the interminable strife, the petty wars of the Middle Age. For this, Machiavelli, in many a bitter paragraph, has execrated the Papacy—"the stone thrust into the side of Italy to keep the wound open"—but the political creed of the great Ghibellines, Farinata, or Dante himself, shows that Italian republicanism, like French nationality, derives not from papal, but from imperial Rome.

The study of Holland, of the history of Denmark, of Prussia, of Sweden, of Scotland, does but illustrate the observation that in the principle of Nationality, whether in its origin or its ends, no ideal wide as humanity is involved, nothing that is not transient, local, or derived. Poetry and heroism have in the past clothed it with undying fame; but recent history, by instance and by argument from Europe and from other continents, has proved that a young nation may be old in corruption, and a small State great in oppression, that right is not always on the side of weakness, nor injustice with the strong.

Not for the first time in history are these two principles, Nationality and Imperialism, or principles strikingly analogous, arrayed against each other. Modern Europe, as we have seen, is a complexus of States, of which the Nation is the constituent unit. Ancient Hellas presents a similar complexus of States, of which the unit was not the Nation but the City. There, after the Persian Wars, these communities present a conflict of principles similar to this which now confronts us, a conflict between the ideals of civic independence and civic imperialism. And the conflict is attended by similar phenomena, covert hostility, jealous execration, and finally, universal war. The issue is known.

The defeat of Athens at Syracuse, involving inevitably the fall of her empire, was a disaster to humanity. The spring of Athenian energy was broken, and the one State which Hellas ever produced capable at once of government and of a lofty ideal, intellectual and political, was a ruin. Neither Sparta nor Macedon could take its place, and after the lingering degradation of two centuries Hellas succumbs to Rome.

A disaster in South Africa would have been just such a disaster as this, but on a wider and more terrible scale.

For this empire is built upon a design more liberal even than that of Athens or the Rome of the Antonines. Britain conquers, but by the testimony of men of all races who have found refuge within her confines, she conquers less for herself than for humanity. "The earth is Man's" might be her watchword, and, as if she had caught the Ocean's secret, her empire is the highway of nations. That province, that territory, that state which is added to her sway, seems thereby redeemed for humanity rather than conquered for her own sons.

This, then, is the first characteristic of the war, a conflict between the two principles, the moribund principle of Nationality—in the Transvaal an oppressive, an artificial nationality—and the vital principle of the future.


But the war in South Africa has a second characteristic not less significant. It is the first great war waged by the completely constituted democracy of 1884. In the third Reform Bill, as we have seen, the efforts of six centuries of constitutional history find their realization. The heroic action and the heroic insight, the energy, the fortitude, the suffering, from the days of Langton and de Montfort, Bigod and Morton, to those of Canning and Peel, Russell and Bright, attain in this Act their consummation and their end. The wars waged by the unreformed or partially reformed constituencies continue in their constitutional character the wars waged by the Monarchy or by the Whig or Tory oligarchies of last century. But in the present conflict a democracy, at once imperial, self-governing and warlike, and actuated by the loftiest ideals, confronts the world.

Twice and twice only in recorded history have these qualities appeared together and simultaneously in one people, in the Athens of Pericles and the Islam of Omar.[4]

Revolutionary France was inspired by a dazzling dream, an exalted purpose, but its imperialism was the creation of the genius or the ambition of the individual; it was not rooted in the heart of the race. It was not Clive merely who gained India for England. French incapacity for the government of others, for empire, in a word, fought on our side. Napoleon knew this. What a study are those bulletins of his! After Austerlitz, after Jena, Eyiau, Friedland, one iteration, assurance and reassurance, "This is the last, the very last campaign!" and so on till Waterloo. His Corsican intensity, the superhuman power of that mighty will, transformed the character of the French race, but not for ever. The Celtic element was too strong for him, and in the French noblesse he found an index to the whole nation. The sarcasm, which if he did not utter he certainly prompted, has not lost its edge—"I showed them the path to glory and they refused to tread it; I opened my drawing-room doors and they rushed in, in crowds." There is nothing more tragic in history than the spectacle of this man of unparalleled administrative and political genius, fettered by the past, and at length grown desperate, abandoning himself to his weird. The march into Russia is the return upon the daimonic spirit of its primitive instincts. The beneficent ruler is merged once more in the visionary of earlier times, dreaming by the Nile, or asleep on the heel of a cannon on board the Muiron.[5] Napoleon was fighting for a dead ideal with the strength of the men who had overthrown that ideal—how should he prosper? Conquest of England, Spain, Austria, the Rhine frontier, Holland, Belgium, point by point his policy repeats Bourbon policy, the policy that led Louis XVI to the scaffold and himself to Ste Helene. Yet his first battles were for liberty, and his last made the return of mediaeval despotism impossible. Dying, he bequeaths imperialism to France as Euphorion leaves his vesture in the hands of Faust and Helena. How fatal was that gift of a spurious imperialism Metz, Sedan, and Paris made clear to all men.

The Rome of the Caesars presents successively a veiled despotism, a capricious military tyranny, or an oriental absolutism. The "Serrar del Consiglio" made Venice and her empire the paragon of oligarchic States.

The rise of the empire of Spain seems in its national enthusiasm to offer a closer parallel to this of Britain. But a ruthless fanaticism, religious and political, stains from the outset the devotion of the Spanish people to their Hapsburg monarchs. Spain fought with grandeur, heroism, and with chivalrous resolution; but her dark purpose, the suppression throughout Europe of freedom of the soul, made her valour frustrate and her devotion vain. She warred against the light, and the enemies of Spain were the friends of humanity, the benefactors of races and generations unborn. What criterion of truth, what principle even of party politics, can then incite a statesman and an historian to assert and to re-assert that in our war in South Africa we are acting as the Spanish acted against the ancestors of the Dutch, and that our fate and our retribution will be as the fate and the retribution of Spain? England's ideal is not the ideal of Spain, nor are her methods the methods of Spain. The war in Africa—is it then a war waged for the destruction of religious freedom throughout the world, or will the triumph of England establish the Inquisition in Pretoria? But, it is urged, "the Dutch have never been conquered, they are of the same stubborn, unyielding stock as our own." In the sense that they are Teutons, the Dutch are of the same stock as the English; but the characteristics of the Batavian are not those of the Jute, the Viking, and the Norseman. The best blood of the Teutonic race for six centuries went to the making of England. At the period when the Batavians were the contented dependents of Burgundy or Flanders, the English nation was being schooled by struggle and by suffering for the empire of the future. As for the former clause of the assertion, it is accurate of no race, no nation. The history of the United Provinces does not close with John de Witt and William III. Can those critics of the war who still point to William the Silent, and to the broken dykes, and to Leyden, have reviewed, even in Schlosser, the history of Holland in the eighteenth century, the part of the Dutch in Frederick's wars, the turpitudes of the Peace of 1783, unequalled in modern history, and in world-history never surpassed, or of the surrender of Namur to Joseph II, or of the braggadocio patriotism which that monarch tested by sending his ship down the Scheldt, or of the capitulation of Amsterdam to Brunswick?

The heroic period of the United Provinces in action, art, and literature began and ended in the deep-hearted resolution of the race to perish rather than forgo the right to worship God in their own way. In the history of this State, from Philip II to Louis XIV, religious oppression seems to play a part almost like that of individual genius in Macedon or in modern France. When that force is withdrawn, there is an end to the greatness of Holland, as when a Charlemagne, an Alexander, or a Napoleon dies, the greatness of their empires dies also. In the passion for political greatness as such, the Dutch have never found the spur, the incitement to heroic action or to heroic self-renunciation which religion for a time supplied.

From false judgments false deeds follow, else it were but harsh ingratitude to recall, or even to remember, the decay, the humiliations of the land within whose borders Rembrandt and Spinoza, Vondel and Grotius, Cornelius and John de Witt lived, worked, and suffered.

But in the empire which fell at Syracuse we encounter resemblances to the democratic Empire of Britain, deeper and more organic, and of an impressive and even tragic significance. For though the stage on which Athens acts her part is narrower, the idea which informs the action is not less elevated and serene. A purpose yet more exultant, a hope as living, and an impulse yet more mystic and transcendent, sweeps the warriors of Islam beyond the Euphrates eastward to the Indus, then through Syria, beyond the Nile to Carthage and the Western Sea, tracing within the quarter of a century dominated by the genius of Omar the bounds of an empire which Rome scarce attains in two hundred years. But this empire-republic, the Islam of Omar, passes swifter than a dream; the tyranny and the crimes of the palaces of Damascus and Bagdad succeed.

And now after twelve centuries a democratic Empire, raised up and exalted for ends as mystic and sublime as those of Athens and the Islam of Omar, appears upon the world-stage, and the question of questions to every student of speculative politics at the present hour is—Whither will this portent direct its energies? Will it press onward towards some yet mightier endeavour, or, mastered by some hereditary taint, sink torpid and neglectful, leaving its vast, its practically inexhaustible forces to waste unused?

The deeds on the battlefield, the spirit which fires the men from every region of that empire and from every section of that society of nations, the attitude which has marked that people and that race towards the present war, are not without deep significance. Now at last the name English People is co-extensive and of equal meaning with the English race. The distinctions of rank, of intellectual or social environment, of birth, of political or religious creeds, professions, are all in that great act forgotten and are as if they were not. Rivals in valour, emulous in self-renunciation, contending for the place of danger, hardship, trial, they seem as if every man felt within his heart the emotion of Aeschines seeing the glory of Macedon—"Our life scarce seemed that of mortals, nor the achievements of our time." Contemplating this spectacle, this Empire thrilled throughout its vast bulk, from bound to bound of its far-stretched greatness, with one hope, one energy, one aspiration and one fear, one sorrow and one joy, is not this some warrant, is not this some presage of the future, and of the course which this people will pursue?

Let us pause here for a moment upon the transformation which this word English People has undergone. When Froissart, for instance, in the fourteenth century, speaks of the English People, he sees before him the chivalrous nobles of the type of Chandos or Talbot, the Black Prince or de Bohun. The work of the archers at Crecy and Poitiers extended the term to English yeomen, and with the rise of towns and the spread of maritime adventure the merchant and the trader are included under the same great designation as feudal knight and baron.

Puritanism and the Civil Wars widened the term still further, but as late as the time of Chatham its general use is restricted to the ranks which it covered in the sixteenth century. Thus when Chatham or Burke speaks of the English People, it is the merchants of a town like Bristol, as opposed to the English nobles, that he has in view. And Wellington declared that Eton and Harrow bred the spirit which overcame Napoleon, which stormed Badajoz, and led the charge at Waterloo. The Duke's hostility to Reform, his reluctance to extend the term, with its responsibilities and its privileges, its burdens and its glory, to the whole race, is intelligible enough. But in this point the admirers of the Duke were wiser or more reckless than their hero, and the followers of Pitt than the followers of Chatham. The hazard of enfranchising the millions, of extending the word People to include every man of British blood, was a great, a breathless hazard. Might not a mob arise like that which gathered round the Jacobins, or by their fury and their rage added another horror to the horror of the victim on the tumbril, making the guillotine a welcome release?

But the hazard has been made, the enfranchisement is complete, and it is a winning hazard. To Eton and Harrow, as nurseries of valour, the Duke would now require to add every national, every village school, from Bethnal Green to Ballycroy! Populus Anglicanus—it has risen in its might, and sent forth its sons, and not a man of them but seems on fire to rival the gallantry, the renunciation of Chandos and Talbot, of Sidney and Wolfe. Has not the present war given a harvest of instances? The soldier after Spion Kop, his jaw torn off, death threatening him, signs for paper and pencil to write, not a farewell message to wife or kin, but Wolfe's question on the Plains of Abraham—"Have we won?" Another, his side raked by a hideous wound, dying, breathes out the undying resolution of his heart, "Roll me aside, men, and go on!" Nor less heroic that sergeant, ambushed and summoned at great odds to surrender. "Never!" was the brief imperative response, and made tranquil by that word and that defiance, shot through the heart, he falls dead. This is the spirit of the ranks, this the bearing in death, this the faith in England's ideal of the enfranchised masses.

Nor has the spirit of Eton and Harrow abated. Neither the Peninsular nor the Marlborough wars, conspicuous by their examples of daring, exhibit anything that within a brief space quite equals the self-immolating valour displayed in the disastrous openings of this war by those youths, the gens Fabia of modern days, prodigal of their blood, rushing into the Mauser hailstorm, as if in jest each man had sworn to make the sterile veldt blossom like the rose, fertilizing it with the rich drops of his heart, since the rain is powerless!


Nor is this heroism, and the devotion which inspires it, shut within the tented field or confined to the battle-line. The eyes of the race are upon that drama, and the heart of the race beats within the breasts of the actors. There is something Roman in the nation's unmoved purpose, the concentration of its whole force upon one fixed mark, disregarding the judgment of men, realizing, however bitter the wisdom, that the Empire which the sword and the death-defiant valour of the past have upraised can be maintained only by the sword and a valour not less death-defiant, a self-renunciation not less heroic. Such manifestations of heroism and of a zealous ardour, unexampled in its extent and its intensity, offer assuredly, I repeat, some augury, some earnest of that which is to come, some pledge to the new century rising like a planet tremulous on the horizon's verge.

But a widespread error still confounds this imperial patriotism with Cosmopolitanism, this resolution of a great people with Jingoism. Now what is Cosmopolitanism? It is an attitude of mind purely negative; it is a characteristic of protected nationalities, and of decayed races. It passes easily into political indifference, political apathy. It is the negation of patriotism; but it offers no constructive ideal in its stead. Imperialism is active, is constructive.[6] It is the passion of Marathon and Trafalgar, it is the patriotism of a de Montfort or a Grenville, at once intensified and heightened by the aspirations of humanity, by the ideals of a Shelley, a Wilberforce, or a Canning. But between mere war-fever, Jingoism, and such free, unfettered enthusiasm, a nation's unaltering loyalty in defeat or in triumph to an ideal born of its past, and its joy in the actions in which this ideal is realized, the gulf is wide. Napoleon knew this. Nothing in history is more illuminating than the bitter remark with which he turned away from the sight of the enthusiasm with which Vienna welcomed its defeated sovereign, Francis II. All his victories could not purchase him that!

Would the critics of "music-hall madness" prefer to see a city stand sullen, silent, indifferent, cursing in the bitterness of its heart the government, the army, the empire? Or would they have it like the Roman mob of the first Caesars, cluster in crowds, careless of empire, battles, or the glory of Rome's name, shouting for a loaf of bread and a circus ticket? Between the cries, the laughter, the tears of a mob and the speech or the silence of a statesman there is a great space; but it were rash to assume that the dissonant clamour of the crowds is but an ignorant or a transient frenzy. In religion itself have we not similar variety of expression? Those faces gathered under the trees or in a public thoroughfare—the expression of emotion there is not that which we witness, say, in Santa Croce, at prime, when the first light falls through the windows on Giotto's frescoes, Herod and Francis, St. Louis and the Soldan, and on the few, the still worshippers—but dare we assert that this alone is sincere, the other unfelt because loud?


And yet beneath this joy, the tumultuous joy of this hour of respite from a hope that in the end became harder to endure than despair, there is perhaps not a single heart in this Empire which does not at moments start as at some menacing, some sinister sound, a foreboding of evil which it endeavours to shake off but cannot, for it returns, louder and more insistent, tyrannously demanding the attention of the most reluctant. Once more on this old earth of ours is witnessed the spectacle of a vast people stirred by one ideal impulse, prepared for all sacrifices for that ideal, prepared to face war, and the outcry of a misunderstanding or envious antagonism. Whither is this impulse to be directed? What minister or parliament is to dare the responsibility of turning this movement, this great and spontaneous movement, to this people's salvation, to this Empire's high purposes? How shall its bounds be made secure against encroachment, its own shores from coalesced foes?

Let me approach this matter from the standpoint of history, the sole standpoint from which I have the right—to use a current phrase—to speak as an expert. First of all let me say, that an axiom or maxim which appears to guide the utterances if not the actions of statesmen, the maxim that the British people will under no circumstances tolerate any form of compulsory service for war, is unjustified by history. It has no foundation in history at all. Nothing in the past justifies the ascription of such a limit to the devotion of this people. Of an ancient lineage, but young in empire, proud, loving freedom, not disdainful of glory, perfectly fearless—who shall assign bounds to its devotion or determine the limits of its endurance? I go further, I affirm that the records of the past, the heroic sacrifices which England made in the sixteenth, in the seventeenth century, and in later times, justify the contrary assumption, justify the assumption that at this crisis—this grave and momentous crisis, a crisis such as I think no council of men has had to face for many centuries, perhaps not since the embassy of the Goths to the Emperor Valens—the ministry or cabinet which but dares, dares to trust this people's resolution, will find that this enthusiasm is not that of men overwrought with war-fever, but the deep-seated purpose of a people strong to defend the heritage of its fathers, and not to swerve from the path which fate itself has marked out for it amongst the empires of the earth. This, I maintain, is the verdict of history upon the matter.

There is a second prominent argument against compulsory service, an argument drawn by analogy from the circumstances of other nations. Men point to Rennes, to the petty tyrannies of military upstarts over civilians in Germany, and cry, "Behold what awaits you from conscription!" Such arguments have precisely the same value as the arguments against Parliamentary Reform fifty years ago, based on the terror of Jacobinism. We might as well condemn all free institutions because of Tammany Hall, as condemn compulsory service because of its abuses in other countries. And an appeal to the Pretorians of Rome or to the Janizzaries of the Ottoman empire would be as relevant as an appeal for warning to the major-generals of Oliver Cromwell. Nor is there any fixed and necessary hostility between militarism and art, between militarism and culture, as the Athens of Plato and of Sophocles, a military State, attests.

All institutions are transfigured by the ideal which calls them into being. And this ideal of Imperial Britain—to bring to the peoples of the earth beneath her sway the larger freedom and the higher justice—the world has known none fairer, none more exalted, since that for which Godfrey and Richard fought, for which Barbarossa and St. Louis died. There is nothing in our annals which warrants evil presage from the spread of militarism, nothing which precludes the hope, the just confidence that our very blood and the ineffaceable character of our race will save us from any mischief that militarism may have brought to others, and that in the future another chivalry may arise which shall be to other armies and other systems what the Imperial Parliament is to the parliaments of the world—a paragon and an example.

With us the decision rests. If we should decide wrongly—it is not the loss of prestige, it is not the narrowed bounds we have to fear, it is the judgment of the dead, the despair of the living, of the inarticulate myriads who have trusted to us, it is the arraigning eyes of the unborn. Who can confront this unappalled?

[1] The battle of Bedr was fought in the second year of the Hegira, A.D. 624, in a valley near the Red Sea, between Mecca and Medina. The victory sealed the faith not only of his followers but of Mohammed himself in his divine mission. Mohammed refers to this triumph in surah after surah of the Koran, as Napoleon lingers over the memory of Arcola, of Lodi, or Toulon.

[2] Gentz' work on the Balance of Power, Fragmente aus der neuesten Geschichte des politischen Gleichgevaichtes in Europa, Dresden, 1806, is still, not only from its environment, but from its conviction, the classic on this subject. It gained him the friendship of Metternich, and henceforth he became the constant and often reckless and violent exponent of Austrian principles. But he was sincere. To the charge of being the Aretino of the Holy Alliance, Gentz could retort with Mirabeau that he was paid, not bought. The friendship of Rahel and Varnhagen von Ense acquits him of suspicion. Nor is his undying hostility to the Revolution more surprising than that of Burke, whom he translated, or of Rivarol, whose elusive but studied grace of style he not unsuccessfully imitated. Gentz, who was in his twelfth year at Bunker's Hill, in his twenty-sixth when the Bastille fell, lived just long enough to see the Revolution of 1830 and the flight of Charles X. But the shock of the Revolution of July seemed but a test of the strength of the fabric which he had aided Metternich to rear. So that as life closed Gentz could look around on a completed task. Napoleon slept at St. Helena, his child, le fils de l'homme, was in a seclusion that would shortly end in the grave, Canning was dead and Byron, Heine was in exile, Chateaubriand, a peer; quotusquisque reliquus qui rempublicam vidisset? who was there any longer to remember Marengo and Austerlitz, Wagram, and Schoenbrunn? And yet exactly seven months and nineteen days after Gentz breathed his last, the first reformed parliament met at Westminster, January 29th, 1833, announcing the advent to power of a democracy even mightier than that of 1789.

[3] It is hardly necessary to indicate that allusions to the "glorious but bloodless" revolution of 1688 are unwarranted and pointless when designed to tarnish, by the contrast they imply, the French Revolution of 1789. It was the bloody struggle of 1642-51 that made 1688 possible. The true comparison—if any comparison be possible between revolutions so widely different in their aims and results, though following each other closely in the outward sequence of incident and character—would be between the Puritan struggle and the first revolutionary period in France, and between 1688 and the flight of James II, and 1830 and the abdication of Charles X. Both Guizot, whose memoirs of the English Revolution had appeared in 1826, and his master Louis Philippe intended that France should draw this comparison—the latter by the title "King of the French" adroitly touching the imagination or the vanity, whilst deceiving the intelligence, of the nation.

[4] I have employed the phrase "Islam of Omar" throughout the present work as a means of designating the period of nine-and-twenty years between the death of Mohammed, 12th Rabi I. 11 A.H., June 8th, A.D. 632, and the assassination of Ali, 17th Hamzan, 40 A.H., January 27th, A.D. 661. Even in the lifetime of Mohammed the genius and personality of Omar made themselves distinctly felt. During the caliphate of Abu Bekr the power of Omar was analogous to that of Hildebrand during the two pontificates which immediately precede his own. Omar's is the determining force, the will, and throughout his own, and the caliphates of Osman and Ali which follow, that force and that will impart its distinction and its direction to the course of the political life of Islam. The nature and extent of the sway of this extraordinary mind mark an epoch in world-history not less memorable than the Rome of Sulla or the Athens of Pericles. From the Arab historians a portrait that is fairly convincing can be arranged, and the threat or promise with which he is said to have announced the purpose for which he undertook the caliphate is consonant with the impression of his appearance and manners which tradition has preserved—"He that is weakest among you shall be, in my sight, as the strongest until I have made good his rights unto him; but he that is strongest shall I deal with like the weakest until he submit himself to the Law."

[5] Thwarted in his schemes of world-conquest in the East by Nelson and Sir Sidney Smith, Bonaparte returned to pursue in Europe the same visionary but mighty designs. In Napoleon's career the voyage on the frigate Muiron marks the moment analogous to Caesar's return from Gaul, January, 49 B.C. But Caius Julius crossed the Rubicon at the head of fifty thousand men. Bonaparte returned from Egypt alone. The best soldiers of his staff indeed accompanied him, Lannes, the "Roland" of the battles of the Empire, Murat, Bessieres, Marmont, Lavalette, but to a resolute government this would but have blackened his desertion of Kleber and the army of the Pyramids. The adventure appears more desperate than Caesar's; but speculation, anxiety, even hope, awaited Napoleon at Paris. Moreau was no Pompey. The sequence of dates is interesting. On the night of August 22nd, 1799, Bonaparte went on board the frigate; five weeks later, having just missed Nelson, he reached Ajaccio; on October 9th he lands at Frejus, on the 16th he is at Paris, and resumes his residence in rue de la Victoire. Three weeks later, on November 9th, occurs the incident known to history as 18th Brumaire.

[6] The Empire of Rome, of Alexander, of Britain, is not even the antagonist of what is essential in Cosmopolitanism. Rome, Hellas, Britain possess by God or Fate the power to govern to a more excellent degree than other States—Imperialism is the realization of this power. Cosmopolitanism's laissez-faire is anarchism or it is the betrayal of humanity.



[Tuesday, June 12th, 1900]

Assuming then that the imperialistic is the supreme form in the political development of the national as of the civic State, and that to the empires of the world belongs the government of the world in the future, and that in Britain a mode of imperialism which may be described as democratic displays itself—a mode which in human history is rarely encountered, and never save at crises and fraught with consequences memorable to all time—the problem meets us, will this form of government make for peace or for war, considering peace and war not as mutual contradictories but as alternatives in the life of a State? Even a partial solution of this problem requires a consideration of the question "What is War?"


The question "What is War?" has been variously answered, according as the aim of the writer is to illustrate its methods historically, or from the operations of the wars of the past to deduce precepts for the tactics or the strategy of the present, or as in the writings of Aristotle and Grotius, of Montesquieu and Bluntschli, to assign the limits of its fury, or fix the basis of its ethics, its distinction as just or unjust. But another aspect of the question concerns us here—What is War in itself and by itself? And what is its place in the life-history of a State considered as an entity, an organic unity, distinct from the unities which compose it? Is war a fixed or a transient condition of the political life of man, and if permanent, does its relation to the world-force admit of description and definition?

If we were to adopt the method by which Aristotle endeavoured to arrive at a correct conception of the nature of a State, and review the part which war has played in world-history, and, disregarding the mechanical enumeration of causes and effects, if we were to examine the motives, impulses, or ideals embodied in the great conflicts of world-history, the question whether war be a necessary evil, an infliction to which humanity must resign itself, would be seen to emerge in another shape—whether war be an evil at all; whether in the life-history of a State it be not an attestation of the self-devotion of that State to the supreme end of its being, even of its power of consecration to the Highest Good?

Every great war known to history resolves itself ultimately into the conflict of two ideals. The Cavalier fights in triumph or defeat in a cause not less exalted than that of the Puritan, and Salamis acquires a profounder significance when considered, not from the standpoint of Athens and Themistocles merely, but from the camp of Xerxes, and the ruins of the mighty designs of Cyrus and Hystaspes, an incident which Aeschylus found tragic enough to form a theme for one of his loftiest trilogies.[1] The wars against Pisa and Venice light with intermittent gleams the else sordid annals of Genoa; and through the grandeur and ferocity of a century of war Rome moves to world-empire, and Carthage to a death which throws a lustre over her history, making its least details memorable, investing its merchants with an interest beyond that of princes, and bequeathing to mankind the names of Hamilcar and Hannibal as a strong argument of man's greatness if all other records were to perish. Qui habet tenam habet bellum is but a half-truth. No war was ever waged for material ends only. Territory is a trophy of battle, but the origin of war is rooted in the character, the political genius, the imagination of the race. One of the profoundest of modern investigators in mediaeval history, Dr. Georg Waitz, insists on the attachment of the Teutonic kindred to the soil, and on the measures by which in the primitive constitutions the war-instinct was checked.[2] The observation of Waitz is just, but a change in environment develops the latent qualities of a race. The restless and melancholy surge, the wide and desolate expanse of the North Sea exalted the imagination of the Viking as the desert the imagination of the Arab. Not the cry of "New lands" merely, but the adventurous heart of his race, lured on by the magic of the sea, its receding horizons, its danger and its change, spread the fame and the terror of the Norsemen from the basilicas, the marbles, and the thronging palaces of Byzantium to the solitary homestead set in the English forest-clearing, or in the wastes of Ireland which the zeal of her monasteries was slowly reclaiming. To the glamour of war for its own sake the Crusades brought the transforming power of a new ideal. The cry "Deus vult!" at Clermont marks for the whole Teutonic race the final transition from the type of Alaric and Chlodovech, of Cerdic and Hrolf, to that of Godfrey and Tancred, Richard Lion-heart and Saint Louis, from the sagas and the war-songs of the northern skalds to the chivalrous verse of the troubadours, a Bertrand or a Rudel, to the epic narrative of the crusades which transfigures at moments the prose of William of Tyre or of Orderic, of Geoffrey de Vinsauf or of Joinville.

The wide acceptance of the territorial theory of the origin of war as an explanation of war, and the enumeration by historians of causes and results in territory or taxation, can be ascribed only to that indolence of the human mind, the subtle inertia which, as Tacitus affirms, lies in wait to mar all high endeavour—"Subit quippe etiam ipsius inertiae dulcedo, et invisa primo desidia postremo amatur."

The wars of the Hebrews, if territorial in their apparent origin, reveal in their course their true origin in the heart of the race, the consciousness of the high destiny reserved for it amongst the Semitic kindred, amongst the nations of the earth. If ever there were a race which seemed destined to found a world-empire by the sword it is the Hebrew. They make war with Roman relentlessness and with more than Roman ideality, the Lord God of Hosts guiding their march or their retreat by day and by night ceaselessly. Every battle is a Lake Regillus, and for the great Twin Brethren it is Jehovah Sabaoth that nerves the right arm of his faithful. The forms of Gideon and Joshua, though on a narrower stage, have a place with those other captains of their race—Hannibal, Bar-Cochab, Khalid, Amr, Saad,[3] and Mothanna. The very spirit of war seems to shape their poetry from the first chant for the defeat of Egypt to that last song of constancy in overthrow, of unconquerable resolve and sure vengeance, a march music befitting Judas Maccabaeus and his men, beside which all other war-songs, even the "Marseillaise," appear of no account—the Al Naharoth Babel—"Let my sword-hand forget, if I forget thee, O Jerusalem"—passing from the mood of pity through words that are like the flash of spears to a rapture of revenge known only to the injured spirits of the great when baulked of their God-appointed fate. Yet on the shores of the Western Sea the career of this race abruptly ends, as if in Palestine they found a Capua, as the Crusaders long afterwards, Templars and Hospitallers, found in that languid air, the Syrian clime, a Capua. Thus the Hebrews missed the world-empire which the Arabs gained, but even out of their despair created another empire, the empire of thought; and the power to found this empire, whether expressed in the character of their warriors, or in that unparalleled conviction which marks the Hebrew in the remotest lands and most distant centuries, the certainty of his return, the refusal, unyielding, to believe that he has missed the great meed which, there in Palestine, there in the Capua of his race, seemed within his grasp, but attests further that it is in no lust for territory that these wars originate.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse