THE TIMES WE LIVE IN.
"HOW do you feel amidst all these events?" said a friend the other day to a member of the Athenmum, supposed to be recreant to the character of his Club, suspected of thinking Sadowa nearly as interesting as a Salamis. "I feel as if I were alive," was the reply, which expressed, we believe, a feeling just now very strong among all who take any interest, however slight, in the movement of the world. The flabbiness of the public will, a pass- ing feebleness on which we have often commented, does not diminish, perhaps rather increases, the intellectual interest in the phenomena of the hour. Englishmen feel something like men comfortably seated in a theatre in presence of a great play, inactive, full fed, almost too lazy to raise their opera glasses or sniff at the odour of gas which occasionally interrupts their com- fort, but nevertheless keenly alive, conscious that every faculty of the brain is at its highest tension. For the play is for once a wonderful one. We are living, and begin to be conscious that we are living, in one of those seed-times of the world which recur only after long cycles, when the ground, long ploughed and manured, is at last to be turned to use, a seed time of empires, and creeds, and discoveries, and systems of thought which, as they germinate and flourish, will in their beauty or their ugliness make the Old World, which looked so bare, irrecognizable in its rich variety of crop, and colour, and life. Nothing was till lately so common as to hear the cry, especially from the young, "Oh, that I had been born at another time, when life was simpler, and movement greater, and mankind had ends !" Tennyson expressed the thought of a gene- ration when he sang,—
What is that which I should turn to, lighting ttpon days like these? Every door is barred with gold and opens but to golden keys, Every gate is thronged with suitors, all the markets overflow ; I have hut an angry fancy—what is that which I should do ? *a a** a** a*** But the jingling of the guinea helps the hurt that Honour feels.
And the nations do but murmur, snarling at each other's heels."
The same cry is still heard, but it has ceased to be real. If the Englishman cannot act, he can at least observe, and feel that his intellect "lives," if he does not. If he is a politician, he is living in an age which, alike in the dramatic character of its events and the grandeur of some of its ideas, has scarcely a parallel in history. Within five years we have witnessed the greatest, it may be the last, struggle between the ideas of free- dom and slavery, each held by millions conscious, however dimly, of their objects, and prepared to go on for their sake to the bitter end. The old world and its aspirations gave place finally to the new and its hopes, when Lee surrendered his sword, and the defeat was as dramatic, as much of a sudden surprise, as near to a true battle of Armageddon, as any catastrophe in history has ever been. The principle of nationalities, first a dream, then a thought, then a hope, has risen almost within months into a power able to shake down States and remodel maps, has pulled an old nation as it were by the hair from under the sea into the air and light, is, as we write, driving whole kingdoms together with a clash which reverberates through the world. Young men read of the rise of Holland to independence, and think that was a grand time ; was it grander in all true elements of grandeur than this rise of Italy out from under the Austrian waves? Rica- soli seems to us as worth watching as William the Silent, Napo- leon as Philip II. The French Revolution was a great event, an event which to this hour seems to choke up the memories of the old, but save iii misery how was it greater as an event than this Revolution in Germany? Crowns did not topple faster in 1790-9& than in 1866, Sadowa was at least as striking an event as Waterloo TheSeven Years' war was a "great episode in history;" we have lived through it all compressed into seven days. The rise of France to dictatorship was not more marvellous, was not to the Continent more full of hope or menace than the rise of Prussia. And we see all events so clearly. Just as the explosion became imminent Europe completed the new systems of communication which make every explosion, however small, every separate rush of the lava, every jetting out of flame, every low rumble in the volcano, so painfully audible to the ear. It is as if mortal eyes. had suddenly been enabled to see the working of geological phenomena, to watch the islands being upheaved, and the seas. receding, and the mountains trembling, and nature in the travail of a new birth. The slow ascent of Santorin to the air is not more marvellous or more evident to all who will look than the ascent of Germany. Armies only defined by fractions of mil- lions, armies such as marched when Rome and the barbarians. came into their final collision, are moved as rapidly as they seem to be moved when we only hear of starting-point and destination the slaughter is as that of the battles which are landmarks in history, the consequences such as those which students ponder through the succeeding centuries. The progress of the world, was not more affected by the struggle between the Hohen- stauffens and the Popes, the State and the Church, or be- tween France and the Continent, democracy and feudalism, than by this struggle just ended between Prussia and Austria— light and obscurantism. We have men, too, among it all, big, visible figures. No age has ever perhaps been richer in prominent. individual personages in whom the world could take a fierce in- terest than that which has produced Napoleon and Bistnark, Lincoln and Gladstone, Von Moltke and Garibaldi.
Even if we say, with some careless thinkers, that events are no- thing, ideas all—as if every event did not generate an idea as well as every idea an event—the movement of the world remains as marvel- lous as before. Men are never tired of considering the Reformation, and the reaction which followed it ; but was it a greater time, a time in which more ideas were born, or in which systems of thought. struggled more visibly towards the light than this ? Enlighten- ment and obscurantism are but Protestantism and Romanism, with their frontiers widened beyond the theological limit, doing battle for the liberation of man as well as of man's soul, of his intellect as well as of his conscience. The Papacy is in the throes as visibly now as it was when Leo X. died, may revive under our eyes as it revived under the eyes of those who defeated the Armada. And we shall see it and be conscious of it, as they scarcely did or were. Every blow struck on either side reverbe- rates instantly through the world. We receive by telegraph the bull against civilization ; read in a special correspondent's. letter how Diillinger—Erasmus—proposes to reconcile Rome and. science ; can, if we will, hear the debate which terminates monachism in Italy ; see, almost while they are writing, the decrees which throughout Germany will end the right. of the Papacy to stifle theological thought. Mr. Froude has made us read with an interest which is almost emotion the succes- sion of Acts which struck down the monasteries in England ; in what do they differ save in rapidity from the bills which passed the Italian Parliament six weeks since, and the decree which this week breaks up the "religious life" in Venetia ? The Reformation was "a lively time ;" is it not reproducing itself now, with all its old complications, till armies are levied in unconscious support of a dogma like the Immaculate Conception, and whole populations are doing battle in the field against the sway of a priesthood without a gun? The revival of learning was a grand and vivid time, but there is a revival going on among us, almost as visible to eyes which will see as ever the Renaissance was to the Cardinals who bought manuscripts and petted the students of the old lore. Realism has revived among us, and is modifying every branch of progress, sweeping away remorselessly all the films which stood between thought and fact, and many which sheltered the brain from the pressure of the fact, breaking away all delusions and many pieties, compelling men, whether they will or no, to admit data disagreeable or pleasant, and apply induction to every subject within the scope of thought. The controversy on transubstantia- tion was not more important, though it involved the whole question whether Christianity was a cult or a creed, than that which is raging now as to the mutability or immutability of Law, the Anti- nomian theory not more dangerous than that which has half formu- lated itself under the name of Secularism. Nothing is "sacred," in the old sense of sacredness, nothing tabooed, nothing admitted on account of the authority it can quote in its behalf. The human mind is breaking bonds strong as those of the old theology, and from the being of a God to the use of reticence in statesmanship every- thing is questioned. Even the worst feature of our times, the tone of cynicism which accepts slavery, and poverty, and oppression as necessities, is but an acrid expression of the same spirit—a spirit which will prove as universal a solvent of the old ideas as ever Greek learning did. Nothing in our day, it is true, compares or can compare with the discovery of America, the greatest impulse from without ever received by human energy, a momentum as great as we should receive were a new planet suddenly to attach itself to the earth; but the scope for adventure, and travel, and even conquest is nearly as wide as ever, their results as dramatic. It is within seven years that we have seen Cochin China turned into a colony, and the "unknown capital," Pekin, entered by European troops, a custom-house officer nearly missing the con- trol of a third of the human race, a new civilization revealed in Japan, the source of the Nile discovered, Australia crossed, the few closed places of earth thrown open to energy and enterprise. To those who wish to found kingdoms, or discover El Dorados, or civilize savage races there are as many fields as ever, and a new certainty that mankind will hear speedily of all they have done. No mechanical invention corresponds or can quite correspond in value with the printing press, but we have this week solved the problem of instant communication throughout the planet, this week drawn within speaking distance continents which three hundred years ago were still, as they were from the be- ginning of time, ignorant of each other's existence. The compass is of more use, but it scarcely strikes the imagina- tion of science more than the discovery of the spectrum, and gunpowder did not revolutionize warfare more than the breech- loader may yet do. We talk much of the mighty emigration from Asia which buried the civilization of Rome—what is it when compared with the exodus to the West, going on every day before our eyes, this yearly march to America of an army greater than that which followed Alaric? The new life introduced by the barbarians was not more novel than the life which is growing up in the Far 'West, feudalism no more potent agency than the system of equality of condition.
At home no doubt events appear to be ordinary, yet even here we are witnessing the rise of a theological agitation as serious as, though less violent than, that which, after a century of discussion and slow filtration down from dukes to hinds, at last liberated us from Rome, as this one will in the end liberate us from Geneva. The contest between capital and labour, as it is called, that is, the transition from feudal to free labour, has 'com- menced, and is at least as noteworthy as the decease of villenage, and with it has come naturally the demand for a new distribution of political power in the State. Commerce, science, art are in a condition of almost morbid activity, and scarcely a newspaper appears without an announcement which in the good old times, when men had leisure to gossip and wits congregated in taverns, woffid have furnished matter for a week's reflection. Life is alive even here, with a change in prices as great as that which followed the discovery of America, a social change as wide as that which produced the Poor Law, and a political change as formid- able as that of 1831, all going on together, and all going on amid the thunder of changes, each greater than they, reverberating from all sides of the world. There is no Charles.V. to watch, but there is Frederick William ; no Philip II., but Napoleon writes, like him, letters to Flanders, and Florence, and Vienna, which presage expeditions ; there is no new America, but there is Asia unveiling itself ; no printing press to wonder at, but electricity is beginning to do its appointed work. The torpor of the body may be deep, but the mind is awake and the imagination running riot, and whether we are thinking or only dreaming, still this generation is alive.