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to the attainment of our ideals, whether social or personal. So often, indeed, we overlook this, because it lies so close to our hearts, even as it escaped King Arthur. We have our new philosophic state ready, carefully and deliberately builded on the base of our past experience ; Dubric gives us his blessing; the multitudes of white knights sing their coronation song. It is May, the sweet promise-month in the world of thought. But the promise-month fails to reach fruition-month; weak humanity, our Guinevere, is irked and distressed at the loftiness of our ideals; she looks for faults, it is the self-same weak humanness that she herself is, which she loves. We know our Lancelot, too, the two-fold character in whom we trusted. The essence of man-of-the-worldism—“This is my end and I will attain unto it, let the king look to himself.” Aye, indeed, that is the great chorus of to-day. The world is shrieking with what we may call “Lancelotism.” “My end, my aim, and let the great social well-being look to itself,” is the cry of the world since the days of Cain, the first individualist.
Pessimistic ? say some. Yes, indeed, we reply. It is the relentless logical truth, born of the historical process, born of the natural process. The tide of good rises slowly, so slowly; the centuries mark its slow ascension. But there comes the inevitable ebb, and we look back upon social states of the past, oriental civilizations of incredible perfection, just as further occidents will look upon the dead dust of our own. We would seem thus far to be permitted to see the promised land, to look into it, but because of the incompetency of the unit human heart, we are not permitted to enter therein. God gives us the guerdon; with His hand he takes us individually up the mountain of truth, and near the snow-line of His infinite purity He buries our ideal, and that is our passing. Not altogether pessimistic, after all, is the Passing of Arthur. Truly enough the deep note of despair breaks through his sad wail. The shrill note of doubt is its introit, but its conclusion, “I pass, but shall not die,” marks the limits of the pessimism. It is the acceptance of the eternal, in which the finite, here imperfect, here fashioned for mortal decay, shall at length find true completion. And we, little dreamers, units in the world of optimists, fall not infrequently into sombre pessimism. The gray hopeless days have chilled our souls; the slow, wearily-slow process towards righteousness brought into our hearts first a glow of impatience, and then the chill of a sullen despair. A generation is so little a thing in the evolution of mankind; what a dozen generations accomplish is so easily driven back by the backwash of a retrograde decade. We may not fashion our prayer so nobly, but it is our prayer notwithstanding, and it breaks from the depths of souls which, beyond the personal God, can see naught in this life worth the living :
I found Him in the shining of the stars,
There are critics who are very careful to shew how this wonderful passage reflects the society of the time. Fifty years ago, when in the upper circles intellectual unbelief was rapidly growing, when in the lower orders cold secularist doctrine was gaining ground, it is easy to understand how true was this description. But it was not only true of the time: of its essence it was truly prophetic. The fifty years that have passed have wrought marked change; where there was once unbelief, belief is now apparent, if not indeed real. The name of Christ is on countless lips, if its mark be not in one tithe the number of lives. Similarly as regards social ideals, like a wondrous leaven, they have grown up in our midst until the whole lump seems to be alive.
It is not an unnatural error for us to pick up the threads of the various directions in which there has been wonderful progress, and weave them together until we think that we are on the brink of social achievement. Scientific discovery has gone ahead by rapid bounds; religion has grown apace; love of literature and the arts has become more common; political methods are sweeter, both in the higher -- the imperial sense,—and in the lower, the municipal. It were easy to dupe ourselves, indeed ; infinitely easy to pick up the premises and arrive at a hideously false conclusion.
For, side by side with the apparent evolution of good in the past few years, there has been an evolution of ill. Not yet have we stamped Guinevere and Lancelot out of our ethical court. There is a growth of luxury-love and ease ; a growth of sensual creature-comfortism; a growth of worship at the shrine of convention. More than this, there is a terrible tendency in the direction of wealthaccumulation, and how far it will go none can prophesy. Further, our imperial notions, our desire for power, our national, greedy grasp of that which is not ours, combined with the rapidly-increasing impatience of the bourgeoisie, shew us that all is not at peace in Leodogran, though indeed, our Arthur, our ideal, may have done some little towards clearing the land of dragons and of swarming heathen.
The infinite pathos of that last weird battle of the West may have a new and a very real and very deep meaning for us who know the horrors of the battles of the West, the west of this, our day; the fights innumerable against selfish grasp and greedy tyranny; the downtrampling of souls and bodies in the mire. And all for wealth and glory, puny and vain when judged from the standpoint of the righteousness which is eternal.
Some had visions out of golden youth,
So we come to the final shattering of the ideal, the final triumph, so far as finite sight is concerned, of Guinevere's wrongdoing. The sword of the SpiritExcalibur—by the hand of Bedevere is now cast into the sea. What a wondrous piece of word-painting is that scene,-
There drew he forth the brand Excalibur
Thus passes Arthur. Here the artist loses perhaps somewhat of the allegorical, but he gains of the intense personal element. We are perchance all Bedeveres, straining our eyes over the dusky sea for the return of the the black speck which bore our Arthur away. The intense sorrowfulness of the end is almost beyond realization ; there is scarcely one ray of hope to lighten the grim despair. All has collapsed. The infection of infamy has stained almost every character in the drama; none can keep his purity, they say, in this kingdom, where, if any. where, we might expect to find purity that is infinite. Failed indeed had Arthur's work: Merlin and Gawain, Vivien and Mark, above all Lancelot and Guinevere had shewn by their lives the folly of Arthur's ideals, so
There hove a dusky barge,