7 JULY 1883, Page 10


THE panic which the Cholera is apparently exciting in Egypt will hardly increase the respect in which the Western world is held by Orientals who have to submit to its guidance. The knowledge of life in which the West excels the East is in part compensated by the undignified dismay and confusion with which anything like a general notice to quit is received amongst the Western races by whom the art of living has been so effectually studied. Mr. Kinglake described, with even more than his ordinary vivacity, between forty and fifty years ago, in his " Eothen," the contrast between the conduct of the Levantines at Cairo, pallid with terror, and shrinking from the touch of every fluttering garment or rag in the city, as if it were a sentence of death,—and as if, too, but for the plague, men would be immortal,—and the conduct of the Mahommedans, who calmly pitched their tents for the celebration of their religious festival, and hung swings for their children, in the very burial-ground where the howls of the arriving funerals were heard, hour after hour, proclaiming the rapid depopulation of the great city. The Oriental, whatever his faith, does not seem to consider prolonged life as the only conceivable and intelligible con- tingency tor himself, outside which all is unmeaning and chaotic, —contingencies not even to be approached with dignity and presence of mind. On the contrary, he seems to regard life and death as alike contingencies which he is bound to meet with the same equanimity—alternative branches of the same inscrutable decrees. But the average European can only die with dignity where the steady pressure of opinion and expectation in the class in which he lives supplies a stimulus that enables him to do so; and if that pressure is removed by the contagion of a general panic, such as is caused by the rout of an army or by a frightful epidemic, all restraints vanish at once, and the result is general demoralisation and bewilderment, of which flight appears to be the only fixed idea. Mr. Kinglake contrasts with this undigni- fied flight, the grave demeanour of the Mahommedanh. "I did not hear whilst I was at Cairo that any prayer for a remission of the plague had been offered up in the mosques. I believe that, however frightful the ravages of the disease may be, the Mahommedans refrain from approaching Heaven with their complaints until the plague has endured for a long space. Then at last they pray God, not that the plague may cease, but that it may go to another city"! We know not how far this may apply to the attitude of Mahommedans of the present day, but nothing could express better the belief that the plague is sent to answer some specific purpose,—of course, a purpose of destraction,—but that that purpose will in all probability stop short of the complete destruction of a given city, and is likely rather to involve the partial depopulation of other cities. According to Mr. Kinglake, the deaths in Cairo had reached 1,200 a day before he left, and even that was not a point at which it was thought decent by Mahommedaus to assume that the purpose of God in sending the plague had been sufficiently fulfilled to make it right to pray that it might pass on to a new place. Thus, the average Oriental evidently faces boldly the possibility that it may be the purpose of God that he and a great number of his companions should die; while the average European averts his mind altogether from such a possibility as purely unnatural, and bolts from the danger which he perceives, so soon as he understands its fatal character, just as, without discipline, he would bolt out of the line of fire of a mitrailleuse, the moment he saw his comrades falling thickly around him. And those words "without discipline" tell the whole secret of the average European's strength and weak- ness. A disciplined force would be kept in its place by the respect paid to the opinion of those who had been trained to value courage and fidelity to orders more highly than life itself. An undisciplined crowd flies, because there is no such respect for trained opinion, no knowledge that there is such a body of opinion worth respecting, and, finally, because there is no restraining instinct in the individual strong enough to take the place of that social discipline which governs a trained body of men. The Oriental does no fly, because there is in him such a restraining instinct,—an instinct consisting in part, perhaps, of the feeling that life is hardly worth so ignominious a retreat from death; partly, again, of the feeling that life cannot ultimately be so rescued, but will be shortly forfeit again, under circumstances of still greater ignominy, even if for the moment death be delayed. In other words, the value for life is less vehement and potent in the Oriental, while the belief in a discernible destiny is stronger; the value for life is overwhelmingly predominant in the European, while the belief in a destiny that in any sense overrules human action, is more theoretic than practical The Oriental is less terrified by the prospect of death, and more pro- foundly impressed by the impossibility of escaping it when the time comes. The European fears premature death as something altogether irrational, unnatural, and almost intolerable except under the social coercion of a professional instinct which has become a second and stronger nature; and, therefore, except when this social coercion is in full force, a European multitude is subject to much more disgraceful panics than an Oriental people, being both more tenacious of life and less tenacious of dignity.

But where Europeans are above, all such panics,—and there are not a few who are quite above them,—they are so from very different causes than those which influence Orientals. Either they implicitly believe in the Divine care, and hold death cheap in the cause of duty ; or, what is even commoner, their minds are so little accustomed to dwell on anything beyond the imme- diate task of the day, and are so thoroughly concentrated on that, that even the risk of death does not interfere with their accom- plishment of that task. Indeed, we believe that there are not a few Englishmen who, quite as much perhaps from deficiency of imagination as from pertinacity of will, regard a great risk when it attends necessarily the discharge of their duty more as a novel excitement than as a bewildering or dis- maying influence. Mr. Kinglake, in the brilliant early work to which we have alluded, tells us of one such case. There was an English doctor in the service of the Pasha, who never took private practice, but who came at once to Mr. Kinglake when appealed to to prescribe for a sore-throat, and, in spite of Mr. Kinglake's warning that an Italian doctor who had since died of the plague had examined him and prescribed for him, insisted on marching straight up to him, and on shaking his hand with "manly violence." It is probable that that man thought no more of the risk of death from the plague than he would have thought when taking a high fence in the hunting- field of the risk of death from a fall,—and this not from any spiritual indifference to life, but because to the vision of such men danger seems a thing to be either faced and overcome, or else faced and not overcome, but in any case to be faced without spending superfluous thought on the contingencies. It is the power of keeping the mind in a groove for purposes of action, and simply ignoring the risks which attend that action, except so far as they add a sense of stimulus to the energy which is thrown into it, which gives to many Englishmen the effect of being superior to panic. We doubt if it is really superiority to panic, though it is impenetrability to panic. Strict superiority to panic is gained only by men whose minds can vividly dwell on and fully realise the prospect of painful and immediate death, and calmly prefer it in the cause of duty. But there is an admirable impenetrability to panic which is totally different in kind, and which springs rather from the habitually narrow groove in which the mind moves, so that all new excitement is instantly transformed into fresh propelling power which quickens the motion in that groove, not from any comprehensiveness of imagination which deliberately weighs the terrors of death in the scales, and finds them wanting in deterrent force.

Nothing is more curious than the fact that dying as one of a crowd, seems to be more terrible to a man than simply dying his own individual death. Unquestionably there seems to be no kind of death more dreaded by men than death either from sudden catastrophes—like that of the Ring Theatre at Vienna and that on the Clyde, for instance—or from pestilence. No doubt, it is perfectly true that death cannot be shared in the same sense in which a peril or a pleasure can be shared ;—yoa cannot, in all probability, be conscious of the strength of companionship after life begins to flicker low, nor are there above one or two people in the world with whom most men would covet the sense of companionship in such a moment as that of death. Still, it is somewhat curious that death on a grand scale always seems to be more terrible, even to the separate individuals, than the ordinary death by units. Of course, terror is very catching, and, therefore, the terror of a crowd always enhances the terror of the individual. But though that explains the supreme agony of a sinking ship or a burning theatre, it does not in the least explain the additional dread of death which plague seems to inspire in individuals, for between the inhabitants of a plague-stricken city there is always very ninch less active sympathy than there was before the pestilence appeared, and it is rather through the growth of mutual repulsion than through the heightening of a common sympathy, that the influ- ence of pestilence is chiefly felt. Perhaps it will be said that men do not fear death the more on account of the number dying around them, but only that that number makes evident the greatness of the risk. But that can hardly be the explanation of the matter, otherwise we might ex- pect a much deeper terror in every man to whom the doctors have frankly acknowledged that death is imminent, than we ought to find in the healthy inhabitant of a plague-stricken city, whose chance of death is probably much less tban one in two. As a matter of fact, very few patients stricken with ordinary disease who are told that death is inevitable, show any panic. at all, while the perfectly healthy man, surrounded' by pestilence, is too often consumed with a terror which renders him absolutely unfit for the discharge of his duties. It seems certain that the selfish terror inspired by the sight of dying crowds does unnerve men in a manner in which a sentence of death passed upon themselves would not unnerve them at all. We wonder why this is; and suppose the reason to be that it is only a great risk in combination, with the chance of escape that unnerves a man whoni the prospect of certain death would not unnerve at all. It is the eager passion with which all the mind rushes into the alternative of prolonged life, that really unmans a nature which would be steady enough in facing certain death. Mingle a great fear with a vivid ray of hope, and you will turn a head which could hold its own against inevitable fate. The tumul- tuous element in the case of plague is, we believe, the selfish desire to escape, rather than the actual prospect of death. The panic felt is really the panic of impetuous hope, rather than the panic of fear. Extinguish the hope, and the panic will often cease as completely as if you had extinguished the fear itself.