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ONE of our chief dangers with reference to the great events which
are taking place around us is, that in consequence of looking at them frequently and inevitably in fragments and in succession, we may never come to see them in a single view and as a whole, in which way alone can their significance be perceived, and that consequently our feelings, and whatever action we may take in these matters, will correspond to imperfect, fragmentary views of things. We are too ready to accept the imperfect view as the only one possible, and to wait for the future, and to follow it rather than attempt to fashion it—too ready to grow content with our indolent half-views or quarter-views, and to excuse ourselves by saying that in thirty years hence or fifty years hence these events will be seen more justly and comprehensively than they can be to-day. Why should this be? Is mankind condemned for ever to the pitiful fate, that it shall see clearly and think rightly in cases where it cannot act, among the objects which are unchangeable and foregone, and where it can act it is to grope blindly and guess incoherently, and spend its splendour and strength of passion in ignoble achievement or impossible aspiration? Is there no method by which we may see near objects vividly because they are near, and comprehensively as if they were remote ? No speculatory mount to which out of the turmoil we may ascend
“ From whose top
No euphrasy wherewith to purge the visual nerve ? trumpet talking with any one now, and saying, “Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter?”
In the present day it would seem as if this gift of prophecy (by which is not meant prediction ; for the trumpet does not speak of things which will be, but which must be hereafter) ought to be more than ordinarily rare, because the condition of prophecy, “Immediately I was in the Spirit" cannot but be somewhat discredited in the popular mind by the seeming preponderance at present of material forces; and prophets, like other growths, flourish best in a favourable environment. Vulcan and his bulky Cyclopses, in the red glow of the stithy, cannot but to some eyes appear more dreadful than a radiant Apollo with his lyre and bow. God seems to have fought habitually on the side of the big battalions. “Thus saith the Lord” sounds more emphatic from the mouth of a Krupp 24-pounder than from that of any other son of thunder. The duel of the nations has been presented to us as a duel between needle-gun and chassepôt, between breech-loading and muzzle-loading ordnance; and military critics have from time to time warned us obligingly against the error of over-rating what can now-a-days be effected by moral forces.
Yet, if the war of France and Prussia has demonstrated anything, it has demonstrated that no force on earth is master of things but mind. The pointing of a gun tells more than its weight of metal. A thinking general is worth twenty fighting generals. Already there has arisen a legend of Molkte—descendant of Woden, armed with cap of darkness, shoes of swiftness, and irresistible hammer-type of the heroic strength and prowess of intellect. Matter has been busy heaving itself up, hoping to conquer by its stupid bulk, but it has only served to form a point of ascent or airy platform for mind to leap from and soar.
In a higher, sense, however, is mind supreme than in its application to machinery, the machinery of discipline, transport, commissariat, burning of villages, organization of robbery, shooting down of non-combatants, and such like. All this mind in relation to machinery, for good or for bad, is subordinate to mind in relation to ideas. History is nothing but logic. Not an invading army but an unsound syllogism will bring a nation to nothingness. The impassive, and sometimes, it is to be feared, ironical, Time-spirit sits with face of a sphinx, proposing logical riddles to the nations, supplying premises and waiting to see who will have courage to draw legitimate conclusions, suggesting sophisms to try the children of men, giving to
those who can answer her questions the most splendid rewards, and ever herself working out with the sureness of the stars the problems of her superb dialectic.
If we can lay hold of the logic of history, the events of our own time ought to be as intelligible as those of the past, with which they are inseparably linked ; and even something of the future ought to be deducible when, having ascertained by observation a major premise, we supply by prudent conjecture or prophetic gift a minor.
What is the meaning of the material strength of Germany ? Everyone has the true answer on his lips—It is an idea, and that idea is German unity. It seems natural that a great period of thought should be succeeded by a great period of action. Alexander is the pupil of Aristotle. Voltaire and Rousseau beget Robespierre and Danton. It was to be expected that Germany, after becoming one in the spirit by her art and literature and philosophy, should desire to become one in the body of her political and civil institutions; and that, after her unparalleled campaign in the world of intellect, she should take to some campaigning of a less uncommon kind. By the year 1830, at latest-probably a good deal earlier—the tide had turned; the mind of Germany was wholly directed to action. Precisely about the time when the average Englishman was becoming aware that there was a literature and philosophy of Germany, which it behoved him to make acquaintance with, Germany herself was deserting literature and philosophy. France, in her popular conception of the German people, was more out of date than ourselves, who are usually protected against the too hasty incursion of foreign ideas by our
strip of silver sea.” It was the inestimable misfortune of France to possess a woman of genius to misinterpret Germany for her own country. Even in Madame de Stael's time the land of the great Frederick was not altogether the land of reverie and romance, of flaxen-haired youths in love with blue-eyed maidens, of abstracted philosophers blind and deaf to the real world, surrounded in their intellectual inane by circles of admiring burschen, the land of poetry and metaphysics and inaction which she had described. The truth in her representation was however sufficient to give credit to the falsehood. And such, as it appeared to Madame de Stael, Germany remained for France long after the representation had become entirely false. Long after a vast drilled army had been formed on the other side of the Rhine, probably to the ordinary Frenchman until the startling events of 1866, the saying of Jean-Paul seemed to catch the great facts of Europe in an epigram: “To the English belongs the empire of the water, to the French the empire of the earth, and to the Germans the empire of the air.” The descent of
that aëry nation upon the solid and sacred soil of France has somehow become actual, but for the French conceptive faculty as yet hardly less than miraculous.
One of those who knew better was the poet and historian, Edgar Quinet. Writing in 1831, he uttered the following prophetic words :
“It is in Prussia that the indifference and political cosmopolitanism of past times have given place to an irritable and angry nationality. There first the popular party has made its peace with the powers that be. In truth the Prussian Government supplies at present that for which Germany is most eager-action, real life, the initiative in society. It satisfies the sudden passion for power and material force. The Prussian despotism is intelligent, stirring, enterprising; it wants nothing but a man who clearly perceives and recognises his star; it lives by knowledge as much as do other despotisms by ignorance. Between the people and it there is a secret understanding to adjourn liberty and aggrandize in common the patrimony of Frederick.
Unity, that is the thought profound, constant, necessary, which works in this country, and penetrates it in every direction. Religion, law, commerce, freedom, despotism, everything which has life on the German side of the Rhine, advances to this dénouement. What is the living thought which exists at this moment in every household ? It is the unity of German territory, the abolition of artificial frontiers, the removal of arbitrary limitations, behind which the people of Germany and its productions are penned, without bond of union or possible industry. . . . . And we, who are so well constituted to know the power which belongs to ideas, we lull ourselves to sleep with the thought that they will never be ambitious enough to pass from the intellect to the will, from the will to action, and seek for social power and political importance. These ideas, however, which are thus to remain incorporeal, rise before us as the very genius of a race of men; and this race arrays itself under the dictatorship of a people not more enlightened than the rest, but more covetous, more ardent, more eager in their demands, more skilful in affairs. To it the race entrusts its ambition, its rancours, its rapines, its strategies, its diplomacy, its violences, its glory, its force among the nations. Is the North, then, engaged at present in making its instrument of Prussia ? Yes; and, if permitted, it will slowly press on Prussia to the destruction of the ancient realm of France."
These words, which time has interpreted with dreadful significance, were uttered forty years ago.
Here, then, was something which made Germany strong. Was there anything by which France might be strong ? The strength of Germany came by faithfulness through manifold failure and discouragement to the real tendency of her life. Might not France gain strength and keep it in like manner?
In the lives of some individuals there are moments when the whole nature becomes exalted, the highest ardour and the clearest intelligence co-exist, all dull accretions of custom and lethargic living drop away, and nothing remains but what is vital and organic. We call them moments of genius, of inspiration, of heroism, of first love,
of sudden religious conversion. Although such a moment seems to come unexpectedly, and, as it were, by accident, the entire preceding life was a preparation for it, the condition by which it became
possible. From it the whole course of subsequent life may proceed, and unquestionably ought to proceed. Moments like these make poets, heroes, martyrs, lovers, saints. And it is not in the lives of individuals alone that they may be observed, but in the lives of nations. If ever there was such a moment,
it was the
year 1789, and some short period of time subsequent to that date, in France. Never was there more unmistakably a moment of genius, of inspiration, of first love. English writers, with an absence of sympathetic intelligence which is too common, are capable of ridiculing what seems to them extravagant speech of Frenchmen about the early period of their Revolution. They cannot forget that 1789 was followed at no great distance by 1793. But if this early period of the Revolution was the moment of awakening, the moment of supreme moral inspiration and genius, the moment of first love, such seemingly extravagant utterances of French writers become natural, and, indeed, inevitable.
Much of the history of the eighteenth century in France is commonly misconceived by Englishmen. No one, perhaps, has helped this misconception more than Mr. Carlyle, whose fervency is not always equalled by his intelligence, and who, if he sees things vividly, sees them too frequently at the same time inverted. Much heat proceeds from Mr. Carlyle, but not always much light. The eighteenth century is represented as a leaf interpolated into our histories, of which we ought to be considerably ashamed, scribbled over as it is with the impieties and indecencies of a set of miserable, mechanical, materialistic, atheistic philosophes. Happily, we have got quite clear of them, and study them now for the most part as objects of curiosity and wonder. Such a view stultifies the history of the past and of the present. The seventeenth century becomes unintelligible as well as the nineteenth. Our parentage is dishonoured and denied. We become enfans trouvés, whom the Catholic Church may well adopt, and baptize with the names of her favourite saints. No; we cling to the eighteenth century; our roots are in it, and through them we draw the sap by which we grow. We honour it, not alone for its overthrow of feudalism, but for its birth-throes of democracy. We honour it for its passion of humanity, for its zeal on behalf of the happiness of men, for its insatiable curiosity after ideas, for its hatred of superstition, for its faith in the supremacy of moral and intellectual over material forces, for America delivered from dependence, for Europe at least stirring in her slumber, and