« AnteriorContinuar »
inquisitive but censorious Mal- policy, a law of social developlock fell alike unheeded on the ment, a canon of taste. The ears of those who were content Englishman of the beginning to argue that the condition of of the nineteenth century was the lower orders, though in- accustomed to demand that his sufficient to their own appe- policy should be glorious, the tence, was luxurious compared accessories of his daily life unto that of their fellows abroad, surpassed in quality, the objects while the easy splendour of the of his aesthetic admiration beaurich inflamed the emulation of tiful. The Englishman of the all mankind; and that the end of that period of decadence public Exchequer supported was content if they were cheap. with facility all burdens which The student of that age the ever-increasing exigencies of will find melancholy evidence the Empire might impose. of degeneration in the printed It was scarcely possible that records, and especially in the
of contemporaries newspapers, of the time. The should discern in the public reported speeches of public felicity the latent causes of men, the venal arguments of decay and corruption. To the leader-writers, the tattling of vulgar mind the British Em- the parasites of fashion, the pire was a triumphant proof statistics of the markets, the of the possibility, as of the very advertisements, bear unblessings, of a wise democracy; animous testimony to the deyet in that very process of based ideas which then enjoyed democracy were inherent the a ready and unprotested curseeds of ruin. In the domain rency. The empire, that magof Government the political nificent fabric founded upon
the genius of the Anglo-Saxon generous impulse to conquer race, its bias toward compro- and to rule, was now formally mise and detestation of ex- regarded as a mere machine for tremity, surmounted with im- the acquisition of pounds sterpunity experiments that would ling. A Palmerston and a Dishave proved fatal to any other raeli had been the spokesmen *people less singularly endowed. of the earlier Imperialism; the But while the leaders of the later found its apt mouthpiece nation were satisfied with pro- in a Chamberlain. The mastermoting or seeking to retard ful truculence of the British the popular encroachment upon gentleman, and the opulent imthe functions of Government, agination of the Anglicised Jew, democracy infused a slower and this generation cheerfully exmore secret poison into the changed for the ambitions of a vitals of society. If the opin- manufacturer fostered by the ion of the vulgar was unac arts of a demagogue. Gifted knowledged in Parliament, in with an extraordinary intuition every other department of life of the changing predilections of it insensibly permeated the his countrymen, Chamberlain whole spirit of the people. It was enabled to turn, to the adbecame a maxim of imperial vantage of his own popularity,
the flood of patriotism which estimation to manufacture and rose in the decade between the trade, these mercenary avocafirst and second Jubilees of Queen tions were themselves pursued Victoria. He became the high- without energy and almost priest of what was fondly sal- without common shrewdness. uted as the new Imperialism, Like the ostrich of mythology, on the lips of whose votaries her head buried in the sand of British Empire was synonymous obsolete traditions and with British commerce. His tiquated success, Britain alone declamations, while they will of the nations of Europe refused reward the curious investigator to educate her commercial travwith little that is either original ellers or to accede to the terms in thought or elegant in expres- of payment required by her sion, proclaim but too eloquently customers, clung to her chaotic the altered feelings with which weights and measures, and the later Britons regarded their haughtily announced to the greatness. Where they had world that it must forgo such once resolved to possess, they goods as its wants demanded, now aspired but to trade. and purchase only what Britain
The jargon of the day clam was pleased to sell. In Geroured for “the open door,” by many, in Belgium, and in the which phrase was understood United States sprang up keen a market which British pro- and victorious competition; and ducts could enter on terms of though the vast wealth of Engfiscal equality with those of the land was as yet almost unimrest of the world. In the man- paired, a few sagacious minds, lier age of Drake and Hawkins while impartially blind to the Britain had opened her own more fatal deterioration of the door for herself; now her diplo- nation's spirit, were already macy all but petitioned for an enabled to foresee and to preequality of treatment which the dict the approaching disasters growing incapacity of her own to its traffic. traders must, in any event, have At the same time, as it was rendered fruitless. Among the thus sought, by menace or perstrange ironies which the his- suasion, to extend the principles torian of this period finds him- of Free Trade abroad, at home self compelled to record, none they were eating, like a deep is more deeply ironical than the and consuming canker, into the fact that, in proportion as the very marrow of Britain. The nation came to regard com- insidious principles of Bright merce as its highest and only and Cobden had made her the weal, SO
commerce itself lost workshop of the whole world ; vitality and astuteness. The but they brought to her the degeneracy of the people spread physical debility of the workto that very activity to which man as well as his wages. The they had sacrificed their nobler profits of the manufacturer and sentiments of empire; and while the cheap food of the operative arms and justice, arts and letters, were paid for by the starvation were postponed in the general of the hind, the bankruptcy of
the farmer, and the ruin of the for employment; but the second landowner. On every industrial and third generations dissolved benefit followed an agricultural away in equal languor under calamity; and the prosperity of the pestilent circumstances of the town
was remorselessly an unnatural existence. The attended by the beggary of the momentary profit of the fathers hamlet. The movement of the was visited in debility on the population accompanied, as in children, and served only to preevery age, the distribution of cipitate the speed of this hideous wealth ; so that the towns dis- process of degeneration. tended to cities and the hamlets The universal experience of disappeared in a wilderness. mankind confirms the opinion
The effects of life in cities that the sole defence of a nation were apparent and pernicious. against external enmity lies in But for the unbroken attesta- the preservation of a robust tion of both printed and pic- and high - spirited peasantry, tured records, it would be The British farm-labourer had difficult indeed to credit the found himself naturally posfull horrors exhibited by such sessed of many of the qualities districts
Lancashire or requisite for a soldier. His the Black Country at the form was vigorous, and inured end of the nineteenth century. to hardship and privation. He There the wildest flights of had a natural habit of obedihyperbole were equalled and ence, and in many instances exceeded by dismal truth, and was already proficient in the use the sun was literally obscured of weapons and accustomed by at noonday. A host of ungainly the pursuit of game to the chimneys loaded the air with simpler operations of war. The poisonous fumes which op- children of the factory, from pressed the hardiest species of whom it now became necessary vegetation. The inhabitants, to recruit the army, had none penned up by day in close of these capacities : they were factories or the dimmer and feeble in body, insubordinate in more stifling obscurity of mines, temper, and habituated by exherded by night in crowded perience to a mode of life which tenements, were pale, sickly, rendered them awkward and and meagre; and, by a malig- discontented in the field. As nant decree of nature, the yet, however, the British army species became more prolific showed but few signs of deterioin proportion as they trans- ration from the standards of its mitted less vigour to their off- glorious history. The courage spring. The philosopher of that of its legionaries was unbroken, age observed that the immi- and its officers, besides training grant countrymen supported them in peace and leading them the unwholesome conditions of in war with matchless courage the towns better than the and coolness, found superfluous feebler natives, and that their energy to raise and discipline superior robustness conferred an auxiliary troops hardly, if at advantage in the competition all, inferior to the British regi
ments themselves. Northern gentleman prompted him to India and the basins of the seek martial enterprises at the Upper Nile and Niger supplied head of the alien levies, whose excellent soldiers, who proved continual service proffered the their valour and endurance in fairest chance of action and all the wars of the end of the honour; and the mass of the nineteenth century. They con- people, relieved of the cares of stituted the major part of the personal service, sank successful expeditions to Tirah, tentedly into the languid into Khartum, and to Bida; but difference of civil life. Black the very strength they brought men and brown men, flanked to British arms was an insidious with an increasingly inconsidersource of decline. As the war- able proportion of white troops, like spirit and manly force of won the British victories; and the white races succumbed to the cheaply fed British citizens the enervating influence of in- were content to sit and acclaim dustrial civilisation, the Govern- their prowess from the galleries ment of London relied more and of the music-halls. more on the martial virtue of In sport, as in its analogue, its subject barbarians. These, war, the British degenerated whether in India or Africa, with frightful rapidity. The were as forward in the field as very word had lost its original the British regiments, and connotation; and the honourundertook, almost unaided by able name proper to the manly them, the necessary fatigues exercises of hunting, shooting, which contribute more and fishing, whose charm conthan the sword to the success- sists in matching man's strength ful prosecution of a campaign. and cunning against that of It was perhaps an inevitable wild nature, was usurped by consequence of the imperial fate childish or plebeian exhibitions which impelled Britons to make of mere brute
mere brute strength and war in every clime; since the agility. The Briton found his severities of the Afghan winter, pleasure in bestriding a bicycle which chilled the courage of instead of a horse, in striking a the British troops, were scarcely tennis-ball instead of a wildfelt by the hardy children of fowl; nor was he even sensible Nepaul; while the Sudanese of the degradation that could and Hausas, in their turn, were prefer a mechanical toy to a better able to resist the beams living creature with a will inof an African sun. But it was dependent of, yet conformable significant, if as yet unnoticed, to, his own. Even the older that the masters of the Empire and more reputable games, like grew either less able or less cricket, football, and skittles, willing to risk their own troops which might have defended in its unhealthier regions, and themselves as affording at least were yearly more disposed to semblance of wholesome delegate their defence a activity to the youth of towns, mercenary army.
The in- were turned by a truly devilish domitable spirit of the English ingenuity into engines of enerVOL. CLXV.-NO. M.
vation and decay. It ceased and amalgamations, which to be fashionable to join per counted the volume of their sonally in these spasmodic but traffic by millions and their active pastimes. The populace profits by hundreds of thouthronged to them in thousands, sands of pounds, their emporia but only to pay for the privilege by scores, and their employees of witnessing as lazy spectators by thousands. The tradesmen recreations which were fondly of the preceding generation were called national. Some of these thankful to become the manexhibitions
than agers and the shopwalkers of merely effeminate: active cor their inflated supplanters, and ruption was added in allure- earned a livelihood by disposing ments to drunkenness, and in of goods for their masters at a a factious partisanship which third of the price they had sometimes blew up to brutal formerly asked and obtained assaults on the umpires of the for themselves. The plausible game, and was always a fertile sophistries of political economy source of gambling. In their celebrated the commercial revoamusements, as in their wars, lution as a triumph of the Britons ceased to play a per- division of labour; but its sonal part, finding a substitute moral effect on the people was for the vigorous sports of their as far-reaching as it was perfathers in the force and address nicious. Commercial power, of well-paid mercenaries, which hitherto divided with an apin a more strenuous age would proach to equality among a have rebuked the insolent soft thousand merchants, now rested ness of those who pampered with a few groups, who absorbed them.
and magnified the profits due Personal force and military to the labours of their subhardihood were the price which ordinates. On these the status Britain paid for cheap im- of inferiority, without responported food; the other cheap sibility or opportunity, worked commodities in which the its necessary effect: they no people delighted pur- longer possessed that vigour of chased at no less ruinous character which is nourished rate. In every department of by the consciousness of selfsocial life the tendency of this dependence and the habit of inage was the same, leading to dividual judgment. When, as the concentration of every in- became ever more frequent, a dustry into huge establishments great business was in the concontrolled by a few heads, and trol of a limited company, the succeeding, by the preponder- rigour of subordination verged ance of their resources, in under- upon the hopelessness of serfselling the enterprises of small dom. The clerk of a personal private traders. The Londoner employer might aspire for a of this period bought his food, partnership, and confidently dehis clothing, his furniture, his mand humanity ; but the serbooks and newspapers, his very vant of a body of directors tobacco, from companies, stores, sighed in vain for a position