Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

The Portent of the Times

The Portent of the Times.

And what are the features of these times in Europe?—a growing sensitiveness to social evils, begetting an impatience of all slow, natural remedies. On the one hand an eager search for short cuts to the millennium, and a readiness to dose the body politic with every nostrum that political charlatans and speculative dreamers can; devise. This marks the greater class of present discontents. On the other hand we see among another class a blank despair of any help from legislative panaceas; a conviction deep as that despair that all the misery of the race must but increase and intensify with the extension of government and the further organisation of society. Amid both these classes men will be found whose views are prompted by no sordid aim; who see the pain, the sorrow, and want—the lifelong lot of millions—who, as Ruskin has it, "have not been born into life, but damned into it," and, touched by what they see, seek some heroic remedy, be it what it may. Again, there is the host of disappointed ones—the failures, the beaten competitors in life's race, who have been soured and embittered against society as it is. Among these are found many sensitive souls, who possess all the requisites of material success except that of self-assertiveness and audacity, that count for so much in the struggle, and who see loud-mouthed impudence filled with good things, while modest merit is sent empty away. Then there is the countless army of the toilers and the moilers of the earth, who have to labor late and early for such a recompense as just keeps body and soul together, and who behold from the midst of their pinching poverty the wasteful extravagance of the idle rich. Among these the diffusion of education prompts the question of whether the exasperating extremes they see are the inevitable work of nature's laws, or but the fruit of this great growth, our present society. With the very best of us interest smooths the way to faith, and it is not to be wondered at that the multitude, made up of the classes I have mentioned, should be disposed to believe and embrace any specious doctrine or scheme that promises to bring them from their weary wilderness to a land flowing with milk and honey. These, if not worthy discontents, have at least some reason for their grudge against our social system, but there yet remains to mention that horde of idle loafers who form the dregs of every State (the "bilge water," as Cicero calls them), and whose degradation and poverty are but the wages of their own intemperance and idleness. These, in every thickly-populated country, are, and always have been, a constant menace to law and order. The standing army of the plunderer, revolutionary leader, and the Anarchist, just as to-day they follow Bakunin and zealously commend his proposed subversion of society and redistribution of the world's goods, so some 2,000 years ago, in the days of Cicero, they followed Catiline, the conspirator, in his designs to overthrow the Roman State. Does not this free translation of the Latin of Sallust sound as if written of to-day? He is speaking of the revolution Catiline attempted. "The spirit of social disaffection was not confined to those alone who took an active part in the revolutionary movement, for the whole of the lowest classes, from a sheer desire for a new order of things, favored the schemes of Catiline. This was but in keeping with their general character, for in every State those who have nothing are the natural enemies of those who have much, and the rabble everywhere will follow the agitator. They dislike the established order of society and long for a revolution. Dissatisfied with their own lot, they are eager for a general redivision of things. Amid disorder and sedition they can live without anxiety, for the beggar can sing in the presence of the highwaymen." These, however, we have always had with us, and their hostility is no new thing, nor much concerns us at the present moment. It is the other classes previously mentioned who form the real danger to our modern State, and from which are drawn those mad enthusiasts who sell their lives for the fancied good of their fellow-men. And now let me say page 8 in conclusion that whatever repulsive form they take, these wild social movements of our day are in large measure but the fruit of the growing altruism of human nature. Our increasing sensitiveness to the evils of our system, and deepening sympathy for the sufferings of the poor, prompts an impatience of experience and a revolt against Nature's own slow methods. No one can regret the growth of philanthropic zeal, but to it nevertheless is largely due the machinations of the Anarchist, as well as the Utopias of the ultra-Socialist. Zeal for the promotion of the general good we have in abundance, but misdirected zeal is often worse than apathy. It is but a phase of the present social mood that he who preaches patience prompts but indignation, while he who proclaims some visionary heroic remedy for our ills is hailed as a deliverer. Much, doubt less, can be and is being done by social and legislative reform; but the lesson, it seems to me, that most needs teaching just now is that the fundamental requisite of both individual and national prosperity and advancement is self-reliance; that each must honestly do the best he can for himself before he asks the aid of the Government Unfortunately, the disposition to invoke the help of Hercules before we have really tried what putting our own shoulder to the wheel can do is a rapidly growing one, which is but fostered and encouraged by all the sentiment and passion that in these days is masquerading in the garb of philosophy. For what ultimate end these tendencies are making it is impossible to say. The future of the race is hidden in the mists that lie across the path, and in these, according to our disposition, we will see shapes that promise joy or travail. In the growth of Anarchism many hear the voice of Chaos "rising monstrous loud and inarticulate," and see the death of society as a living organism drawing near. But he who has an ear for the still, small voices and eternal intimations that come across the temporal clamor of the present will embrace that larger hope in human things which, notwithstanding many presages of ill, yet doubts

. . . not through the ages one increasing purpose runs,

And the thoughts of men are widened with the process of the suns.


Printed at the Evening Star Job Printing Works, Bond Street, Dunedin.