THE " TONE OF EMPIRE."
NO thoughtful man, however little he may be disposed by temperament to applaud the extravagances of Jingoism, can help feeling some alarm at the very visible i decline of the ruling sentiment in this nation. The fact can hardly be disputed, for the evidence of it crowds upon us every day. It is not alone the Home-rule movement, with its senseless mangling of Constitution and Empire, and what Lord Salisbury so well calls its " flabby optimism." The same spirit betrays itself in schemes for entrusting India to the government of Baboos; in the well-marked hesitation to accept obvious responsibilities in Africa; in proposals to surrender territory or authority, here a little, and there a little ; in the loud grumblings which are heard when it becomes necessary to strengthen our military or naval defences ; and in the endless talk about the weary Titan,—the weary Titan, forsooth! when we can still produce in unlimited numbers men with all the great qualities of the race, engaged throughout the globe in every great enterprise of commerce and government. We seem sud- denly to have lost all faith in our own character and in the beneficence of our work in the world. A people with a long and eventful history like ours, must needs have something to reproach itself with, some crimes and many errors, and we seem at the present moment to have become conscious of our sins, and their burden sits heavily upon us. If any man has a charge to bring against us, we hear him gladly, and at once condemn our- selves without waiting for the defence. As a nation, we are weary of the world and its wickedness, and would fain retire into a monastery and seek rest for our souls. It is only in Ulster that Britons any longer sing " Rule Britannia! " As Burke said of the Princes of Europe at the time of the French Revolution, we no longer desire to be great ; we are grown philosophic, and are satisfied to be good. Well may one ask with the great poet who is gone— "Is this the tone of Empire P Here the faith
That made us rulers P "
It would be difficult to trace this strange—and, we hope, temporary—relaxation of the national character to its origin, to say how far it is due to the inclusion within the franchise of masses in whom the national spirit is still undeveloped, how far to the long peace with the enormous growth of commerce and wealth and luxury. It is not confined to any single class, but, in different shapes, is as visible among the highest as among the lowest. In the upper and middle classes it takes the form of a sudden awakening to the worth of the finer graces of character and endowment,—to the attractions of art and beauty and refinement on the one hand, and to the power of gentleness and sympathy and kindness on the other. Lower down in the social scale, the spirit we are analysing seems to fluctuate between a crude sentimental humanitarianism and the selfishness which is unable to rise above the petty interests of the moment to a sense of what is national or imperial. Nor are we blind to the fact that there is a good side to all our self-distrust and over-scrupulousness, and sentimental tenderness. As a protest against Jingoism, as a corrective of the arrogance and harshness which are the natural vices of the ruling temperament, this passing wave of emotion may have its value. It may be necessary as a stage of development, and, if we can escape the immediate dangers and recover our strength, it may contribute some permanent elements of worth to the national character, and help to place that character on a broader and firmer basis. But while, by reasoning such as this, we can pay tribute to the optimism which is so much in vogue, it is impossible not to feel that in some of its manifestations at least, the prevalent tone of political enervation cannot be presented as other than an evil. The crude cosmopolitanism of the " Little England " Radical is not due to any superiority to national or imperial senti- ment, but rather to the fact that his vision is still bounded by the horizon of County-Councildom. His reluctance, again, to sanction the exercise of authority, to maintain order by force, or override any individual or local interest for the sake of the general welfare, does not arise from a reasoned preference of moderation to violence. He is as ready as any one to employ force when it suits him, as witness every Thursday's hustling-match in our House of Com- mons. The root of the whole disease is rather a failure to grasp the truth of the Christian doctrine that discipline is necessary to the realisation of character, that only by aweary round of discipline can the individual or the nation or the race reach those heights of attainment which are possible to them. Disguised in various forms, the Rousseauistic belief in the natural goodness of man is at the bottom of nearly all the political troubles of the century. It sanctions revolu- tion, or rather makes it a duty, calls for the relaxation or abolition of authority, even by force if necessary, and is alike destructive of all Government, Empire, and the possi- bilities of a true Cosmopolitanism.
We do not imagine that the anti-Imperial spirit will prove very enduring in the democracy. We should not be surprised to see the sentiment of Empire, from some cause or other, suddenly revive and come upon us as a mighty rushing wind. Of course, a sudden access of Jingoism would bring us very little nearer to the true tone of Empire,—that combination of strength and pru- dence, that spirit of counsel and might, that habit of acting saaviter in mode, fortiter in re, which has been so characteristic of the statesmen and ruling classes of England. The nation as a whole will only attain, if ever it attains, to that high level of character through many an alternating fit of weakness and violence. Give us time, however, and we do not despair of seeing a recovery from the present sharp distemper, and a great permanent advance towards a really healthy sentiment as well The wage-earners, in whom the need of im- provement is greatest, will be reached through their material interests, if in no other way. They must in the end come to realise that their very existence depends on the maintenance of our commerce, and ultimately of the fabric of the Empire. The commercial spirit is the best anti- dote to Jingoism ; and it must sooner or later prove equally destructive to the blind optimism and sickly sentimentalism which imagine that an Empire will keep together of itself, or that it does not greatly matter if it go to pieces after all.
But time is precisely the element on which, in this instance, we cannot count ; and it is peculiarly unfortunate that a people with such a position and such duties as ours should have been seized by even a temporary fit of emotion and nervelessness. Whether in its ultimate results our ailment be a good or whether it be an evil, whether it be permanent or whether it be transient, there is one pressing necessity,—to preserve intact for future generations the great Empire which has been entrusted to us. The people of these islands are fortunate enough to have a well- defined mission in the world, and that mission is to govern, —government in all its range, and variety, and complexity ; the development of free institutions, where those are pos- sible ; the exercise of a beneficent despotism, where that is necessary. For centuries, through good and evil report, through failure and success, we have followed our mission steadfastly ; and the result is this great and intricate Empire which has grown up around us. Now, at a critical moment, we begin to falter. Let us by all means be refined, and artistic, and sympathetic, and humanitarian, if we can be these things and retain our ruling faculties unimpaired. But let us remember that our duty is first and foremost to hold fast by that great inheritance of Empire which has come down to us. If we retain that, we can cultivate the softer virtues at our leisure; if we abandon it, it will matter little either to the world or to ourselves how many virtues and accomplishments we may have to show as the reward of our fine self-denial.