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- Froude's History of England - 8/8 -


tens of thousands, of their own free will, to be made soldiers of by her country gentlemen, and treated by them the while as men to be educated, not as things to be compelled; not driven like sheep to the slaughter, to be disciplined by men with whom they had no bond but the mere official one of military obedience; and 'What,' we ask ourselves, 'does England lack to make her a second Rome?' Her people have physical strength, animal courage, that self-dependence of freemen which enabled at Inkerman the privates to fight on literally without officers, every man for his own hand. She has inventive genius, enormous wealth; and if, as is said, her soldiers lack at present the self-helpfulness of the Zouave, it is ridiculous to suppose that that quality could long be wanting in the men of a nation which is at this moment the foremost in the work of emigration and colonisation. If organising power and military system be, as is said, lacking in high quarters, surely there must be organising power enough somewhere in the greatest industrial nation upon earth, ready to come forward when there is a real demand for it; and whatever be the defects of our system, we are surely not as far behind Prussia or France as Rome was behind the Carthaginians and the Greeks whom she crushed. A few years sufficed for them to learn all they needed from their enemies; fewer still would suffice us to learn from our friends. Our working classes are not, like those of America, in a state of physical comfort too great to make it worth while for them to leave their home occupations; and whether that be a good or an evil, it at least ensures us, as our militia proves, an almost inexhaustible supply of volunteers. What a new and awful scene for the world's drama, did such a nation as this once set before itself, steadily and ruthlessly, as Rome did of old, the idea of conquest. Even now, waging war as she has done, as it were, [Greek text which cannot be reproduced] thinking war too unimportant a part of her work to employ on it her highest intellects, her flag has advanced in the last fifty years over more vast and richer tracts than that of any European nation upon earth. What keeps her from the dream which lured to their destruction Babylon, Macedonia, Rome?

This: that, thank God, she has a conscience still; that, feeling intensely the sacredness of her own national life, she has learned to look on that of other people's as sacred also; and since, in the fifteenth century, she finally repented of that wild and unrighteous dream of conquering France, she has discovered more and more that true military greatness lies in the power of defence, and not of attack; not in waging war, but being able to wage it; and has gone on her true mission of replenishing the earth more peacefully, on the whole, and more humanely, than did ever nation before her; conquering only when it was necessary to put down the lawlessness of the savage few for the well-being of the civilised many. This has been her idea; she may have confused it and herself in Caffre or in Chinese wars; for who can always be true to the light within him? But this has been her idea; and therefore she stands and grows and thrives, a virgin land for now eight hundred years.

But a fancy has come over us during the last blessed forty years of unexampled peace, from which our ancestors of the sixteenth century were kept by stern and yet most wholesome lessons; the fancy that peace, and not war, is the normal condition of the world. The fancy is so fair that we blame none who cherish it; after all they do good by cherishing it; they point us to an ideal which we should otherwise forget, as Babylon, Rome, France in the seventeenth century, forgot utterly. Only they are in haste (and pardonable haste too) to realise that ideal, forgetting that to do so would be really to stop short of it, and to rest contented in some form of human society far lower than that which God has actually prepared for those who love Him. Better to believe that all our conceptions of the height to which the human race might attain are poor and paltry compared with that toward which God is guiding it, and for which he is disciplining it by awful lessons: and to fight on, if need be, ruthless, and yet full of pity--and many a noble soul has learnt within the last two years how easy it is to reconcile in practice that seeming paradox of words--smiting down stoutly evil wheresoever we shall find it, and saying, 'What ought to be, we know not; God alone can know: but that this ought not to be, we do know, and here, in God's name, it shall not stay.'

We repeat it: war, in some shape or other, is the normal condition of the world. It is a fearful fact: but we shall not abolish it by ignoring it, and ignoring by the same method the teaching of our Bibles. Not in mere metaphor does the gospel of Love describe the life of the individual good man as a perpetual warfare. Not in mere metaphor does the apostle of Love see in his visions of the world's future no Arcadian shepherd paradises, not even a perfect civilisation, but an eternal war in heaven, wrath and woe, plague and earthquake; and amid the everlasting storm, the voices of the saints beneath the altar crying, 'Lord, how long?' Shall we pretend to have more tender hearts than the old man of Ephesus, whose dying sermon, so old legends say, was nought but--'Little children, love one another'; and who yet could denounce the liar and the hater and the covetous man, and proclaim the vengeance of God against all evildoers, with all the fierceness of an Isaiah? It was enough for him--let it be enough for us--that he should see, above the thunder- cloud, and the rain of blood, and the scorpion swarm, and the great angel calling all the fowl of heaven to the supper of the great God, that they might eat the flesh of kings and valiant men, a city of God eternal in the heavens, and yet eternally descending among men; a perfect order, justice, love, and peace, becoming actual more and more in every age, through all the fearful training needful for a fallen race.

Let that be enough for us: but do not let us fancy that what is true of the two extremes must not needs be true of the mean also; that while the life of the individual and of the universe is one of perpetual self-defence, the life of the nation can be aught else: or that any appliances of scientific comforts, any intellectual cultivation, even any of the most direct and common-sense arguments of self-interest, can avail to quiet in man those outbursts of wrath, ambition, cupidity, wounded pride, which have periodically convulsed, and will convulse to the end, the human race. The philosopher in his study may prove their absurdity, their suicidal folly, till, deluded by the strange lull of a forty years' peace, he may look on wars as in the same category with flagellantisms, witch-manias, and other 'popular delusions,' as insanities of the past, impossible henceforth; and may prophesy, as really wise political economists were doing in 1847, that mankind had grown too sensible to go to war any more. And behold, the peace proves only to be the lull before the thunderstorm; and one electric shock sets free forces unsuspected, transcendental, supernatural in the deepest sense; forces which we can no more stop, by shrieks at their absurdity, from incarnating themselves in actual blood, and misery, and horror, than we can control the madman in his paroxysm by telling him that he is a madman. And so the fair vision of the student is buried once more in rack and hail and driving storm; and, like Daniel of old when rejoicing over the coming restoration of his people, he sees beyond the victory some darker struggle still, and lets his notes of triumph die away into a wail,--'And the end thereof shall be with a flood; and to the end of the war desolations are determined.'

It is as impossible as it would be unwise to conceal from ourselves the fact that all the Continental nations look upon our present peace as but transitory, momentary; and on the Crimean war as but the prologue to a fearful drama--all the more fearful because none knows its purpose, its plot, which character will be assumed by any given actor, and, least of all, the denouement of the whole. All that they feel and know is that everything which has happened since 1848 has exasperated, not calmed, the electric tension of the European atmosphere; that a rottenness, rapidly growing intolerable alike 'to God and the enemies of God,' has eaten into the vitals of Continental life; that their rulers know neither where they are nor whither they are going, and only pray that things may last out their time: all notes which one would interpret as proving the Continent to be already ripe for subjection to some one devouring race of conquerors, were there not a ray of hope in an expectation, even more painful to our human pity, which is held by some of the wisest among the Germans; namely, that the coming war will fast resolve into no struggle between bankrupt monarchs and their respective armies, but a war between nations themselves, an internecine war of opinions and of creeds. There are wise Germans now who prophesy, with sacred tears, a second 'Thirty Years' War,' with all its frantic horrors, for their hapless country, which has found two centuries too short a time wherein to recover from the exhaustion of that first fearful scourge. Let us trust, if that war shall beget its new Tillys and Wallensteins, it shall also beget its new Gustavus Adolphus, and many another child of Light: but let us not hope that we can stand by in idle comfort, and that when the overflowing scourge passes by it shall not reach to us. Shame to us, were that our destiny! Shame to us, were we to refuse our share in the struggles of the human race, and to stand by in idle comfort while the Lord's battles are being fought. Honour to us, if in that day we have chosen for our leaders, as our forefathers of the sixteenth century did, men who see the work which God would have them do, and have hearts and heads to do it. Honour to us, if we spend this transient lull, as our forefathers of the sixteenth century did, in setting our house in order, in redressing every grievance, reforming every abuse, knitting the hearts of the British nation together by practical care and help between class and class, man and man, governor and governed, that we may bequeath to our children, as Henry the Eighth's men did to theirs, a British national life, so united and whole-hearted, so clear in purpose and sturdy in execution, so trained to know the right side at the first glance and take it, that they shall look back with love and honour upon us, their fathers, determined to carry out, even to the death, the method which we have bequeathed to them. Then, if God will that the powers of evil, physical and spiritual, should combine against this land, as they did in the days of good Queen Bess, we shall not have lived in vain; for those who, as in Queen Bess's days, thought to yoke for their own use a labouring ox, will find, as then, that they have roused a lion from his den.

Footnotes:

{1} North British Review, No. LI., November 1856.--'A History of England, from the Fall of Wolsey to the Death of Elizabeth.' By J. A. Froude, M.A., late Fellow of Exeter college, Oxford. London: J. W. Parker and Son, West Strand. 2 vols. 1856.

{2} This article appeared in the North British Review.


Froude's History of England - 8/8

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