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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 70

A National Sentiment. — I

A National Sentiment.


As a private member of the National Association of New Zealand, I would like to offer a few remarks on the five planks in its platform, the first of which is "To promote a national sentiment, as opposed to sectional and class interests." "What a truly noble ideal! If a national sentiment prevailed here the people of this Colony would be united in object, effort, and feeling, instead of disunited and forgetting that they are "members one of another." Never before except at the close of the last decade was there such a pronounced and distrustful feeling between the classes as exists to-day. It reached a climax in September, 1890, when a wave of delusive sentiment swept over Australasia. In this Colony it was characterised as "Millarism;" because an unknown, obscure, and irresponsible man at a distance, exercising despotic power, led thousands of thoughtless men to throw up their situations without valid reason for their action, or a week's wages to fall back upon. With a single stroke they struck work and the knell of prosperity.

Desolate Homes.

So overpowering was the class bias and sentiment that old, tried, and faithful servants turned against their masters as unreasonably as did the Sepoy privates on their officers in India in 1857. In some instances employers were deserted in the midst of responsible engagements and contracts, and teams of their horses were left by the drivers at a moment's notice, like batteries deserted by their gunners. Men's minds had been worked up to a morbid state by self-interested agitators, who involved multitudes in unhappiness and ruin. Ever since then many men who had good situations and happy homes have been wanderers in quest of work, and one by one their household goods have been sacrificed for daily bread. Part of the depression we are now suffering from was caused by that strike and the consequent uncertainty about what would happen next; especially as some societies promulgated anarchical doctrines which if put into practice would involve a resort to

"The good old rule,
The simple plan
That he should take who has the power
And he should keep who can."

In addition to the absence of sympathetic accord between Labour and Capital, and the increasing friction between the "haves" and the "have nots," there are animosities between page 6 political parties which throw theological rancour into the shade; and they are fanned into diabolic flames by ambitious demagogues who clutch at political power and emoluments. That is bad, because in this young Colony, where our lot is cast and our children were born and bred, we should disdain to be bound with the grave-clothes of a narrow factional party spirit. Unless we all set our faces against that evil sentiment of sect and class which is being imported from older and unhappier lands by artful panderers to a class, we shall bequeath to our children a heritage of bias which will vent itself in the destruction of all that makes life worth living.

Recognising how good and how pleasant a thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity, and how evil a thing anarchy is, I was glad to find the National Association, comprising hundreds of intelligent men, pledging itself to promote a national sentiment, as opposed to sectional and class interests. Except that sentiment prevail, there will be jealousies, discord, divisions, and tyranny of the worst type; and an important minority will be ignored, if not trampled on. Legislation is becoming a mere struggle between the "ins" and the "outs,"and many politicians are addressing themselves more zealously to party support than to national service. Colonial interests are tossed about like shuttlecocks, and principle yields to expedience. Merit, unsupported with sufficient votes, is bowed out into the cold.

The People's Power.

But the matter is in the hands of the people; Parliament is only a reflex of the people. We get served and represented as well as we deserve. The people are the real rulers, and it is only because they forget that, and are set one against the other, divided, inflamed, and distracted, that place-seekers can use them as tools or stepping stones. Men who have never done, and are not likely to do them-selves or their own kith and kin, any good, are those who most lavishly promise to do great things for their party if they be returned. They will promise almost anything and everything for their party; but they seldom dream of promising to do what is best for the Colony as a whole.

All that sort of thing could be remedied if a national sentiment prevailed, but so long as electors are content with those who can merely say" shibboleth," so long will class bias and interests predominate over patriotism and national progress. It only requires that a few earnest, fearless, able men should enter upon a crusade against political cant and humbug, and should educate the people in order to arouse the country. Sentiment can be stirred and educated into a conviction.

page 7


Richard Cobden and John Bright proved it when they moved England to repeal the corn laws; Mr. Gladstone, in his Midlothian campaign, almost single-handed winning victory for the Liberal party, proved it; Sepoy leaders proved it when they inflamed the native mind about greased cartridges, and caused the great mutiny; Garibaldi proved it when he stirred the hearts of nations, and won Italian unity. Yes; people may "pooh-pooh" sentiment, but it sways the world to-day. It may be used for the weal or woe of nations; it may prove to be like the beneficence of heaven or the malevolence of hell.

Despise sentiment? The flag of Old England, which has "braved a thousand years the battle and the breeze," is only a bit of rag, but the proudest nations salute and respect it, and brave troops glory to die for it.

The outburst of loyalty when the Earl of Onslow left New Zealand was only sentiment, but it proclaimed to the world our devotion to the Crown and Throne of England. Such sentiment is a greater defence of our shores than our forts and armed leviathans. A nation without a national sentiment is united with a rope of sand; with it the nation's bulwarks are the bared breasts of its bravest manhood. Sentiment inspired a little band of Spartans to defend the Pass at Thermopylae against a host; it nerved Jewish patriots to defend their temple and country against Titus and his legions; it nerved Wallace at Stirling, and Bruce at Bannockburn; it inspired the Light Brigade at Balaklava, and the heroes at Rorke's Drift; and it has nerved soldiers for the forlorn hope. It was but sentiment that induced universal tokens of grief throughout the Empire when the Duke of Clarence died, but it did more than doubling the army and navy would have done to establish the English Throne.


But sentiment is a good servant and a bad master. It is not to be trifled with. The other day it led to a run on the bank in Sydney, and it has sometimes plunged nations into war. Commercial panics, religious persecutions, and political upheavals have resulted from sentiment. We ought to be very careful lest we do anything to cause a panic, and we should cautiously criticise governments and public measures, because it is so easy to create a scare. This sentiment or fear is locking up much capital at present. Mr. Battley, head of one of the greatest financial institutions in the Colony, and whose public utterances are most significant, said to a representative of the Press, the other day," . . . if moderate counsels obtain, and inequalities and blots in the Act of last session are adjusted by the Government . . . so that everyone has a fair chance, with avoidance of mere class legislation, then, page 8 so far as I could hear, there is a general disposition to let the party in power have a fair innings." Exactly so. I would fight tooth and nail for any Government which will do that; but can we expect it from a Government which studiously slights Chambers of Commerce and Employers' Associations, and defers to Trade and Labour Councils? which treats landowners as "social pests," and pays workingmen more than its own officers certify they are entitled to? When properly directed, sentiment impels men to benign activity; but when it gets the ascendancy of reason, it crucifies the world's best benefactors.

New Zealand's Ideal—What?

In this Colony there is no national sentiment, unless horse racing and betting can be dignified with that term. How few of our young men are thrilled with a knowledge of New Zealand history; how few adequately prize her climate, resources, and free institutions; how few realise that our Colony is a veritable earthly paradise, and how few believe in her marvellous destiny! What a field for the National or any association to work in, to raise for instance young New Zealand above political sect or party; to insist on equal opportunities for all men; to assist any Government that will be fair to all alike; to imbue men with a national instead of a mere class sentiment.

That such a state is possible I am hopeful, if the right cry be raised, a proper ideal set up, and the work properly gone about, for the heart of man is more impressionable than the photographer's plate; and if its chords be deftly touched, it will vibrate with patriotism from the North Cape to Stewart Island.