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persuasion. And yet such is Shakespeare's indifference or impartiality
that it is impossible to say to which side he inclined. The only conjec-
ture that has been hazarded is, that he leant towards the old faith, be-
cause his friars, especially Father Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet, are
depicted in a favorable light. But this can hardly be carried further
than to show that he was not one of those bigoted Protestants to whom
everything connected with Rome was an abomination. On the other
hand, we find no trace of it, where it might have been most expected, in
ridicule or abuse of the Puritans.

The Puritans were already a considerable sect, and from their bitter
hostility to the stage must have appeared to Shakespeare almost in the
light of personal enemies. His observant eye could not have failed to
notice many of the traits which, as in Butler's Hudibras, laid them open
to ridicule. Many of his characters, as for instance that of Malvolio,
would have enabled him with perfect dramatic propriety to sharpen the
shafts of his satire by introducing an element of Puritanism. But he en-
tirely abstains from doing so by a single word or insinuation. Malvolio
is a prig, but not a Puritan.

The fact is that patriotism and loyalty seem to have been such ruling
motives in Shakespeare's breast as to have left no room for political or
theological differences. The dithyrambic and almost Jingoist praises of
England which he puts in the mouth of John o' Gaunt and other char-
acters are evidently written con amore, and express his real sentiments;
and so also are the glowing eulogiums on the " imperial votaress throned
in the West, " Had he lived a generation later, we may conjecture that



he would have been a Cavalier, and charged with Rupert rather than with
Cromwell; but at the first threat of foreign interference he would have
been for England, whether under a king, a Protector, or a Parliament.

Perhaps Shakespeare is right, and after all religion plays a less part in
the real life of individuals and of nations, than we are apt to assign to it
It becomes important when it happens to coincide with great currents of
feeling or opinion which are setting in the same direction, but it has lit-
tle effect when it runs counter to them. Thus at the present day, we see
that the feeling of nationality is vastly more powerful than any differences
of religious denomination. Frenchmen, Italians, and Germans are for
national independence and greatness alike, whether they are Catholics,
Protestants, or Freethinkers, just as English Catholics were Englishmen
first and Catholics afterwards at the time of the Armada. Catholic Ire-
land bows the Pope's rescript respectfully out of Court when it comes in
conflict with National feeling, and follows the lead of an " uncrowned
king " who is a Protestant. In private life nothing can be clearer than
that the Christian theory is, that it is better to be poor than rich ; while
the Christian practice is, that it is better to be rich than poor. The ex-
ample of Lazarus and Dives does not prevent the immense majority of
mankind from striving to be better fed, better clothed, better lodged, and
more independent; and the precept to ' ' take no thought for the morrow "
is nowhere in competition with Burns's ideal of life

" To make a happy household clime
For weans and wife."

An ideal which, under existing conditions, is only to be realized by the
constant exercise of providence and foresight. So also nine-tenths of the
very men who preach and who repeat the command, "Thou and thy
servant shall do no work on the Sabbath," go home to a hot dinner,
which compels their cook to do the same work on the seventh as on the
other days of the week.

The fact is, that these remote and metaphysical speculations, whether
of theology or philosophy, exert wonderfully little influence on practical
life. The spiritualist who holds with Berkeley that matter has no real
existence, walks on solid earth exactly as does the materialists who be-
lieves in nothing but matter. The determinist, who holds that everything
is the result of pre-established harmony, or of mechanical necessity, when
it comes to practical action differs in no perceptible degree from the be-
liever in free-will, who holds with Tennyson that

" Man is man, and master of his fete."
In either case the practical incentive is that

" Because right is right, to follow right
Were wisdom in the scorn of consequence "

In other words, that the rules of right and wrong, which have become


almost instinctive by the operation of heredity, education, and environ-
ment, influence conduct far more than any theoretical considerations as
to the origin of morals, and practical life is made up mainly of the con-
flict between these instincts and the lower inducements of selfishness, sen-
suality, and passion, which tempt us to disregard them.

Of great poets who may be considered to have drawn their inspiration
from theology there are two Dante and Milton. In the case of Dante,
however, it is doubtful whether the phantasmagoria of mediaeval horrors
in the Inferno can be considered as anything more than the canvas on
which he has painted his immortal pictures. He is a great poet, from the
passionate insight with which he has described contemporary events and
characters, his knowledge of universal human nature, his vivid power of
description, and the occasional gleams of pity and tenderness which lighten
up his gloomy landscape. His inspiration is to a great extent political
and personal rather than theological. He loves and hates with the in-
tense vehemence of an exile whose life has been marred by the struggles
of contending factions, and who has known the misery of eating the bread
of charity, and mounting the cold stairs of haughty patrons. He takes
the regions of Tartarus, the tortures of the damned, and the malignity ^f
devils, as he finds them ready to his hand in the popular beliefs of his
day, and on this canvas dashes down the vivid impressions and brooding
ideas of which his soul is full ; and that soul being a great one, the
picture is great also.

In the case of Milton, on the other hand, we have an instance of a
really great poet, who, "smit by the love of sacred song, derived his in-
spiration mainly from the Bible and from theology. And if theology
acted thus powerfully on him, he in return reacted no less powerfully on
it, for the conceptions of Adam and Eve, of paradise, of heaven and hell,
and of the whole hierarchy of good and bad angels are derived mainly
from his Paradise Lost. Specially that of Satan transformed from the
grotesque, Pan-like devil of popular mythology into an heroic figure, not
less than "archangel ruined," is purely Miltonic. The indomitable res-
olution with which he opposes his own personality and free will to the
buffets of adverse fate, and the decrees of Omnipotence, elevates the horned
and tailed ' ' auld Clootie " of vulgar tradition into an heroic figure akin
to the Prometheus of Greek tragedy. It may easily be seen from the ex-
ample of Milton, how readily poetry may pass into mythology in uncriti-
cal ages. It was thought by some Greek philosophers that the gods of
Olympus were a creation of Homer's. Had Milton's Paradise Zo-r/been
written before the invention of printing, and transmitted for centuries by
the chants of itinerant bards, probably the same thing might have been
said of many of the personifications of popular Christianity.

In contrasting the spirit of the Greek tragedians with that of modern
poetry, it strikes me very forcibly how much more the element of morality
enters into the former. The ground note of ^Eschylus and Sophocles,


and in a less degree of Euripides, is that of an inexorable and irresistible
Fate, based mainly on a vindication of immutable moral laws. This all-
powerful Fate grinds gods and mortals alike, regardless of individual lives,
and of individual pains and sufferings, merits and demerits. The essence
of tragedy lies in the heroic struggles of lofty souls to oppose this inexorable
Fate, and either vindicate against it the more immediate laws of human
justice and mercy, or, if defeated, to suffer and endure with unshaken
resolution. Thus the Thyestian banquet entails a curse on the house of
Atreus, which is visited from father to son to the third and fourth gener-
ation of those whose ancestor had violated one of the fundamental laws
of human nature, and been guilty of cannibalism. The avenging Furies
pursue Orestes to assert the eternal law against the unnatural crime of
matricide, regardless of the extenuating circumstances which might have
induced a modern jury to bring in a verdict of justifiable homicide. So
also (Edipus undergoes the extreme of human suffering, regardless of the
fact that the homicide of his father and marriage with his mother were
committed in total ignorance, and without any taint of what may be
called personal depravity. Antigone and Electra suffer, not only when
they are free from guilt, but when their lives have been devoted to acts of
natural piety. They suffer not for their own sins, but because circum-
stances have involved them in the train of events and family connections,
for which the eternal moral laws require expiation. The spirit of modern
poetry is very different. It is based less on Fate and more on nature; on
nature as it is seen in the outward universe, conceived in the Pantheistic
spirit of a living whole, and on nature as shown by the actual course of
events and real characters and actions of actual men and women. Virtue
is sometimes rewarded and vice punished, but not always; characters are
partly good and partly bad, just as we see them in the real \vorld; they do
not stalk before us on the stage as heroes or demi-gods, in heroic mask
and buskin, but tell their tale and act their parts as ordinary mortals, by
the play of words, gesture, and of the human countenance. From
Chaucer and Shakespeare downwards, the aim of all first-rate poets,
dramatists, and novelists has been, not to preach sermons or illustrate
views of " fate, free-will, foreknowledge absolute," but to hold up a mirror
to nature and reflect it as it really is. Not partially, as in the modern
French realistic school, which photographs only that which is ugly and
obscene; nor as in society novels, which find nothing in the world but
school-girl romance, and the rose-colored trivialities of fashionable circles;
but, as Shakespeare did in a supreme degree, the whole real world of
nature, which lies within the domain of art, that is, which admits of being
illuminated by genius into something which in its final impression is
beautiful and not ugly, pleasing and not repulsive.

I have reserved for the last Tennyson, for he is the great poet of
modern thought, who stands nearest to us, and who writes with the full-
est knowledge of the discoveries of recent science, and of the problems


which occupy the minds of the living generation. In writing of Tenny-
son I have to bear in mind that he has lived many days, and gone through
many phases of thought, and might therefore probably object to be
classed in any one category, or represented as consistently holding in his
declining years the views which he expressed in his early youth or mature
manhood. It is a long journey from the first Locksley Hall, where the
poet of progress hails with exulting spirit the " wondrous mother age,"
and sees in his fellow-men

" Men my brothers, men the workers ever working something new
What they have done but the earnest of the things that they shall do,"

to the Locksley Hall, Sixty Fears After, of the mournful bard who, being
old, "thinks gray thoughts," and walks from Dan to Beersheba, finding
all things barren. It is not for us to complain that the sun is not always
at its meridian splendor, but after having given us light and warmth for
its appointed season, sinks, not in the softer glories of a glowing sunset,
but behind the gray and clammy mists that obscure the horizon.

Let us take rather our great poet at his best and fullest, in the days
when he poured out his inmost soul in In Memortam, and gave the world
his views on the deepest problems, in lines which dwell for ever in the
minds of the foremost thinkers of his generation. No poet of any gener-
ation has struck a deeper or truer note than Tennyson in those noble
stanzas in In Memortam, in which he says

' Are God and Nature then at strife,

That Nature lends such evil dreams ?
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life;

" That I, considering everywhere
Her secret meaning in her deeds,
And finding that of fifty seeds
She often brings but one to bear;

" I falter where I firmly trod,

And falling with, my weight of cares
Upon the great world's altar-stairs
That lead from darkness up to God;

" I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To Him I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope.

" ' So careful of the type ? ' but No !

From scraped cliff and quarried stone
She cries, ' A thousand types are gone :
I ewe for nothing, all shall co.


" Thou makest thine appeal to me:
I bring to life, I bring to death:
The spirit doth but mean the breath:
I know no more.' And He, shall He,

' Man, her last work, who looked so fair,
With splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who rolled the psalm to wintry skies,
And built him fanes of fruitless prayer;

" Who trusted God was love indeed
And Love Creation's final law
Though Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shrieked against his creed;

" Who loved, who suffered countless ills,
And battled for the True and Just,
Be blown about the desert dust,
Or sealed within the iron hills ?

" No more ? a monster then, a dream,
A discord. Dragons of the prime,
Who tare each other in their slime,
Were mellow music matched with him.

" Oh life as futile, then, as frail !

Oh for thy voice to soothe and bless !
What hope of answer or redress ?
Behind the Veil, behind the Veil ! "

I never read those noble lines without almost a thrill of awe at the
intense truthfulness with which they sum up the latest conclusions of the
human intellect. Here at last is the true truth, based on the inexorable
facts and laws of modern science, and on the ineradicable hopes, fears,
and aspirations of human nature which underlie them in presence of the
"unknowable." Tennyson has read his Darwin, and understands the
facts of " Evolution" and the " struggle for existence." He has read his
Lyell, and knows how the facts of geology show that what is true of
individuals is true of types, and that all creation lives and dies, comes
into existence, and is transformed, by immutable laws. He sees this as
clearly as Herbert Spencer, but, like Spencer, he sees that this is not all,
and that underlying these known or knowable facts and laws is a great
unknowable, in presence of which we can only veil our faces and bow in
reverent silence.

This much, at any rate, it teaches us that the apprehensions are
visionary which tell us that the progress of science and the light of reason
will banish all poetry and all religion from the world, and reduce life to
an arid and prosaic desert like that of a burnt-out planet. His science
furnishes him with some of the most magnificently poetical similes ever
penned by mortal poet. The struggle for existence, and apparent cruelty


of Nature, is embodied as the wild eagle, dropping gore from beak and
talon, and shrieking with ravine against the creed of love and mercy.
The Ichthyosaurus and Plesiosaurus give him the

" Dragons of the prime,
Who tare each other in the slime."

The decay of the old simple paths, the slowly-dying creeds, translate
themselves into a deep undertone of the ' ' still, sad music of humanity. "
Men ' ' falter where they firmly trod, " doubt whether their churches and
cathedrals are not "fanes of fruitless prayer, " and their accepted creeds
and solemn services but as the " cry of an infant in the night," and with
"no language but a cry."

Tennyson's practical conclusion is very similar to that of Shakespeare
and Goethe, viz., to place the centre of gravity of human life in the natural
rather than in the supernatural. The advice of his Goddess of Wisdom is
to cultivate "self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control;" and without
investigating too closely the origin of conscience, to accept it as a fact,

" And because right is right, to follow right."

In his Two Voices, after a deep philosophical disquisition on the
Zoroastrian doctrine of polarity, or conflict of two principles, he finds the
best solution of the problem in the spectacle of a man walking to the
parish church between his wife and child.

This is apparently the last word of religions and philosophies. Work
while it is day, for the night cometh when no man can work. Work well
and wisely, and when your little day is over go to sleep calmly, accepting
with an equal mind whatever fate, if fate there be, that may be in store
for you



WHAT an irony of fate the history of the latter half of the nineteenth
century seems to one who can look back on the opening of the
first Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. It seemed as if the beautiful glass
fabric which the genius of Sir Joseph Paxton had raised amidst verdant
turf and umbrageous elms, were a modern temple of Janus, in which the
nations of the earth had met to celebrate the inauguration of an era of
perpetual peace.

Nor were such anticipations altogether unreasonable. A quarter of a
century had elapsed since the close of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, with-
out a single war between first-rate powers. The revolutionary hurricane
of 1830, had swept over Europe, prostrating for a time thrones and
dynasties, but no great war had resulted from it Even the thorny ques-
tion of the separation of Belgium from Holland had been settled by
diplomacy. Everything pointed to the conclusion that both nations and
rulers had become wiser, and come to see that war was always a calamity
and often a crime.

Where are those flattering visions now ? " O caeca mens mortalium."
How little is it given even to the most sagacious mortals to foresee the
course of evolution, and how infinitely wise is the aphorism, "Never
prophesy unless you know."

Instead of closing the temple of Janus, the Exhibition of 1851 seems
to have been the signal for throwing its portals wide open, letting slip the
dogs of war, and cheering them on with ever louder cries of havoc.

Since that date there have been eight first-class wars in which great
powers have been engaged, large armies brought into the field, and battles
fought on a scale equal to the greatest recorded in history.


The Crimean, .... Russia, France, England, and Turkey.

The ist and 2nd Italian, . Austria and Italy.

The Hungarian . . . Austria, Russia, and Hungary.

The 3rd Italian .... France, Austria, and Italy.

The Austria-Prussian . . Prussia, Austria, and the minor Germanic State*.

The Turco-Russian . . Russia and Turkey.

The Franco-German . . France and Germany.

The American, . . . Northern and Southern States of the United State*.


And in addition a number of second-rate but still considerable wars,
uch as those of France in Mexico, Rome, and Tonquin; of Prussia and
Austria against Denmark; of Russia in Poland and the Caucasus; of
Garibaldi in Italy; and of the United States in Mexico.

Of these minor wars England has had its full share. One indeed, the
suppression of the Indian Mutiny, almost assumed the proportions of a
great war ; and in addition, we have had two Afghan wars, the Egyptian
war, two Chinese wars, and at least four or five little wars in South Africa
and New Zealand.

Confining our attention, however, to the great European wars, there
are several remarkable facts to notice. They originated with the Crimean
war, which first broke the long spell of peace, and introduced the
element of uncertainty and distrust into the relations of the great military
powers. They have gone on upon an increasing scale, the warfare of
standing armies having developed into conflicts of armed nations. In
talking of the armaments of nations, millions have come to mean what
hundreds of thousands did fifty years ago, or even down to the date of
Louis Napoleon's campaign in Italy. At Magenta and Solferino not
above 100,000 men on each side actually confronted one another on the
field of battle; while in the Austria- Prussian war, the two armies engaged
in the campaign numbered together more than 500,000; and in the
Franco-German war the effective force in the field of one power alone
exceeded that number. And the process is still going on. The result of
these great wars has not been to establish conditions of settled peace, but
rather an armed truce, in which all the nations vie with one another in
increasing armaments.

There are, or shortly will be, when the latest military organizations are
carried out, not less than fifteen millions of soldiers drilled, disciplined,
and to a certain extent taken from civil life in the five great military states
alone, viz.

Russia, in round figures 5,000,000

Germany 3,500,000

France 3,000,000

Austria 2,000,000

Italy 1,500,000


And the number still tends to increase, while vast sums are expended
in new and improved forts, guns, and military railways. It is not sur-
prising that all the countries whose resources are thus strained are accu-
mulating debts and are increasing taxes, in some cases to an extent which
threatens bankruptcy and general impoverishment.

And the worst of it is, that, as matters stand, there seems no issue from
this impasse of progressive armaments and expenditure. Germany and
Italy clearly cannot disarm unless France sets the example. Their re-


cently acquired national unity and independence would be in serious
danger, if France got so far ahead of them in military preparation as to
be able, either alone or in alliance with Russia, to attack them with a
superior force. France, again, cannot disarm without resigning herself to
the loss of Alsace and Lorraine, and her chance of regaining her position
as the leading state in Europe. Nor can Austria disarm unless Russia
does so ; and Russia cannot, without resigning all her national and tra-
ditional aspirations to be the head of the Greek Christian races whom she
has emancipated from the Turkish yoke by a lavish expenditure of Russian
blood and treasure, and seeing them and the inheritance of the fast dying
Turkish empire, past into alien and possibly hostile hands.

While this state of things continues, disarmament and permanent peace
must remain a pious aspiration rather than a question of practical poli-
tics. The utmost that can be hoped is to prolong the precarious truce
from year to year by the reluctance of any power to precipitate a conflict
of such enormous dimensions and uncertain issue. In the meantime, the
electricity is accumulating, and thunder-clouds rising ever blacker and
higher above the horizon. Will the tension go on increasing, until some
accident makes them explode in the thunder-peals and blood-rain deluges
of the greatest war the world has ever seen ? or may it be possible, by
any diplomatic lightning-conductors, to draw the elements of danger
noiselessly to the earth and avert the catastrophe ?

This is a case in which it is peculiarly dangerous to prophesy, depend-
ing, as it does, on so many incidents and personalities on which no man
can calculate. All that can be done is to appeal to past history, arid from
this " philosophy teaching by experience," endeavor to draw some de-
ductions which may assist us in arriving at some conclusions as to the
causes which have led to this enormous development of militarism among
civilized nations, and the main conditions which tend to make any return
to pacific relations so extremely difficult.

The first conclusion to be drawn is adverse to the chances of diplo-
macy being able to relieve the existing tension. For diplomacy was
really the " fons et origo malorum." The Crimean war, which began the
series of great wars, was essentially a diplomatic war. It was not a nec-
essary war, or one arising from the conflict of great national interests,
but distinctly a war made for diplomatic or personal objects by three men

Online LibraryIsreal Smith ClareLibrary of Universal history and popular science ... (Volume 20) → online text (page 24 of 60)