THE LAMENT OF A MODERN JEREMIAH.
To the Contemporary Review for December Mr. Robert Buchanan contributes a striking piece of denunciation under the title of "The Voice of the Hooligan." He says:—
" As the years advance which ' bring the philosophic mind,' or at least the mind which we fondly flatter ourselves is philosophic—in other words, as men of thought and feeling approach the latter end of their pilgrimage, there is a tendency among them to under-reckon the advance which the world has made in the course of their experience, and to discover in the far-off days of their youth a light which has almost ceased to shine on earthly things. Laudatores temporis acti, they look askance at all the results of progress, and assert, more or less emphatically, that men were wiser and better when they themselves were young. They forget, of course, that distance lends enchantment to the view, and that the very splendour in which the world once appeared came rather from within than from without; and, forgetting this, they do scant justice to the achievements of later generations. A little sober reflection, nevertheless, may convince them that the world does advance, though per-haps not so surely and satisfactorily as they would wish to believe, and that, even if there is some occasional retrogression, inevitable under the conditions of human development, it is only after all temporary and due to causes which are inherent in our imperfect human nature. From time to time, however, the momentum towards a higher and more spiritual ideal seems suspended altogether, and we appear to be swept centuries back, by a great back-wave as it were, in the direction of absolute barbarism.
A BACK-WAVE TO BARBARISM.
"Such a back-wave, it appears to me, has been at work during the last few decades, and the accompanying phenomena, in public life, in religion, in literature, have been extraordinary enough to fill even a fairly philosophical mind with something like despair. Closer contemplation and pro founder meditation, however, may prove that in all possibility the retrogression is less real than superficial, that the advance forward of our civilisation has only been hampered, not absolutely and finally hindered, and that in due time we may become stronger and wiser through the very lessons hardly learned during the painful period of delay.
THE DRIFT FROM HUMANITARIAN TRADITIONS.
"It would be quite beyond the scope of the present article to point out in detail the divers ways in which modern society, in England particularly, has drifted little by little, and day by day, away from those humanitarian traditions which appeared to open up to men, in the time of my own boyhood, the prospect of a new heaven and a new earth. At that time, the influence of the great leaders of modern thought was still felt, both in politics and in literature; the gospel of humanity, as expressed in the language of poets like Wordsworth and Shelley, and in the deeds of men like Wilberforce and Mazzini, had purified the very air men breathed; and down lower, in the humbler spheres of duty and human endeavour, humanists like Dickens were translating the results of religious aspiration into such simple and happy speech as even the lowliest of students could understand. It was a time of immense activity in all departments, but its chief characteristic, perhaps, was the almost universal dominance, among educated men, of the sentiment of philanthropy, of belief in the inherent perfectibility of human nature, as well as of faith in ideals which bore at least the semblance of a celestial origin. Not quite in vain, it seemed, had Owen and Fourier laboured, and Hood sung, and John Leech wielded the pencil, and Dickens and Thackeray used the pen. The name of Arnold was still a living force in our English schools, and the name of Mazzini was being whispered in every English home. The first noticeable change came, perhaps, with the criminal crusade of the Crimean war, and from that hour to this, owing in no little degree to the rough-and-ready generalisations of popular science, and the consequent discrediting of all religious sanctions, the enthusiasm of humanity among the masses has gradually but surely died away. Sentiment has at last become thoroughly out of fashion, and humanitarianism is left to the care of eccentric and unauthoritative teachers. Thus, while a few despairing thinkers and dreamers have been trying vainly to substitute a new Ethos for the old religious sanctions, the world at large, repudiating the enthusiasm of humanity altogether and exchanging it for the worship of physical force and commercial success in any and every form, has turned rapturously towards activities which need no sanction whatever, or which, at any rate, can be easily sanctified by the wanton will of the majority. Men no longer, in the great civic centres at least, ask themselves whether a particular course of conduct is right or wrong, but whether it is expedient, profitable, and certain of clamorous approval. Thanks to the newspaper press —that "mighty engine," as Mr. Morley calls it, "for keeping the public intelligence on a low level"—they are fed from day to day with hasty news and gossip, and with bogus views of affairs, concocted in the interests of the wealthy classes. Ephemeral and empirical books of all sorts take the place of serious literature; so that while a great work like Mr. Spencer's "Justice" falls still-born from the press, a sophistical defence of the status quo like Mr. Balfour's "Foundations of Belief" is read by thousands. The aristocracy, impoverished by its own idleness and luxury, rushes wildly to join the middle class in speculations which necessitate new conquests of territory and constant acts of aggression. The mob, promised a merry time by the governing classes, just as the old Roman mob was deluded by bread and pageants panem et circenses — dances merrily to patriotic war tunes, while that modern monstrosity and anachronism, the Conservative working man, exchanges his birth right of freedom and free thought for a pat on the head from any little rump-fed lord that steps his way and spouts the platitudes of cockney patriotism. The Established Church, deprived of the conscience which accompanied honest belief, supports nearly, every infamy of the moment in the name of the Christianity which it has long ago shifted quietly overboard. It is sad to read in this connection the poem contributed to the Times, at the outbreak of the South African struggle, by no less a person than the Ven. Dr. Alexander, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland :—
They say that "War is Hell," the "great accursed,"
The sin impossible to be forgiven—
Yet I can look upon it at its worst,
And still find blue in heaven !
And as I note how nobly natures form
Under the war's red rain, I deem it true,
That He who made the earthquake and the storm,
Perchance made battles too!
God help the Church, indeed, if this is the sort of oracle she delivers to those who rested their faith in God on the message of the Beatitudes. There is an universal scramble for plunder, for excitement, for amusement, for speculation, and above it all the flag of a Hooligan Imperialism is raised, with the proclamation that it is the sole mission of Anglo-Saxon England, forgetful of the task of keeping its own drains in order, to expand and extend its boundaries indefinitely, and, again in the name of the Christianity it has practically abandoned, to conquer and inherit the earth. "It may be replied that this is an exaggerated picture, and I will admit at once that there is justice in the reply, if it is granted at the same time that the picture is true so far as London itself and an enormous majority of Englishmen are concerned. Only if this is granted can the present relapse back to barbarism of our public life, our society, our literature, be explained. Now that Mr. Gladstone has departed, we possess no politician, with the single exception of Mr. Morley (whose sanity and honesty are unquestionable, though he lacks, unfortunately, the dæmonic influence), who demands for the discussion of public affairs any conscientious and unselfish sanction whatever; we possess instead a thousand pertinacious counsellors, cynics like Lord Salisbury or trimmers like Lord Rosebery, for whom no one in his heart of hearts feels the slightest respect. Our fashionable society is admittedly so rotten, root and branch, that not even the Queen's commanding influence can impart to it the faintest suggestion of purity or even decency. As for our popular literature, it has been in many of its manifestations long past praying for; it has run to seed in fiction of the baser sort, seldom or never with all its cleverness touching the quick of human conscience; but its most extraordinary feature at this moment is the exaltation to a position of almost unexampled popularity of a writer who, in his single person, adumbrates, I think, all that is most deplorable, all that is most retrograde and savage, in the restless and uninstructed Hooliganism of the time."
Mr. Buchanan then indulges in a vigorous assault on "Kiplingese." Proceeding, he says:—
THE PRESS AND PUBLIC OPINION.
"So much, however, for the voice of the Hooligan as reverberating in current literature. It is needless to say that it would hardly have been necessary to seriously discuss such literature, if the object was merely to protest on intellectual grounds against its popularity; one might as well examine seriously the current contributions to Answers and the Sporting Times, or hold up to artistic execration the topical songs in a Drury Lane pantomime. But even a straw may indicate the direction in which the wind is blowing, and the vogue of Mr. Kipling, the cheerful acceptance of his banalities by even educated people, is so sure a sign of the times that it deserves and needs a passing consideration. Behind that vogue lies, first and foremost, the influence of the newspaper press, and I cannot do better than quote in this connection some pregnant words contained in a recent work by a writer of undoubted insight, Mr. George Gissing:—' A wise autocrat might well prohibit newspapers altogether, don't you think?' says one of Mr. Gissing's characters. 'They have done good, I suppose, but they are just as likely to do harm. When the next great war comes, newspapers will be the chief cause of it. And for mere profit, that's the worst! There are newspaper proprietors in every country who would slaughter half mankind for the pennies of the half who were left, without caring the fraction of a penny whether they had preached war for a truth or a lie.' 'But doesn't a newspaper,' demands another character, 'simply echo the opinions and feelings of the public ' I'm afraid,' is the reply, 'it manufactures opinions and stirs up feeling. . . . The business of newspapers in general is to give a show of importance to what has no real importance at all, to prevent the world from living quietly, to arouse bitterness, when the natural man would be quite indifferent. . . I suppose I quarrel with them because they have such gigantic power and don't make anything like the best use of it.' If this statement is accepted as true, and few readers who have studied the recent developments of journalism will be inclined to doubt it, it will be understood at once how the popularity of Mr. Kipling has been accelerated by ' that mighty engine,' the newspaper press.
HOOLIGANISM IN LITERATURE.
"It is no purpose of mine, in the present paper, to touch on political questions, except so far as they illustrate the movements of that back-wave towards barbarism on which, as I have suggested, we are now struggling. I write neither as a Banjo-Imperialist nor as a Little Englander, but simply as a citizen of a great nation who loves his country and would gladly see it honoured and respected wherever the English tongue is spoken. It will scarcely be denied, indeed it is frankly admitted by all parties, that the Hooligan spirit of patriotism, the fierce and quasi-savage militant spirit as expressed in many London newspapers and in such literature as the writings of Mr. Kipling, has measurably lowered the affection and respect once felt for us among European nation. Nor will any honest thinker combat the assertion that we have exhibited lately, in our dealings with other nationalities, a greed of gain, a vainglory, a cruelty, and a boastful indifference to the rights of others, of which in days when the old philanthropic spirit was abroad we should simply have been in capable. " But it is not here, in the region of politics and militarism, that I wish to linger. My chief object in writing this paper has been to express my sorrow that Hooliganism, not satisfied with invading our newspapers, should already threaten to corrupt the pure springs of our literature. These noisy strains and coarse importations from the music-hall should not be heard where the fountains of intellectual light and beauty once played, where Chaucer and Shakespere once drank inspiration, and where Wordsworth, Hood, and Shelley found messages for the yearning hearts of men. Anywhere but there; anywhere but in the speech of those who loved and blest their fellows. And let it be remembered that those fountains are not yet dry. Poets and dreamers are living yet to resent the pollution. Only a little while ago the one living novelist who inherits the great human tradition tore out his very heart, figuratively speaking, in revolt against the spirit of savagery and cruelty which is abroad; though when Thomas Hardy wrote "Jude the Obscure," touching therein the very quick of divine pity, only a coarse laugh from the professional critics greeted his protest. Elsewhere, too, there are voices not to be silenced by the clamour of the crowd; as near as our own shores, where Herbert Spencer is still dwelling, as far away as South Africa, where Olive Schreiner has sought and found human love in the dominion of dreams; and there are others, shrinking away in shame from the brazen idols of the mart, and praying that this great empire may yet be warned and saved. To one and all of these has been brought home the lesson—' Woe to you when the world speaks well of you !' and they have elected to let the world speak ill of them rather than bow down in homage to its calves of gold. For to speak the truth as we see it, to confront the evil and folly of the hour, is as dangerous to-day as when Socrates drank his hemlock-cup.
THE NOBLE IMPERIALISM.
"I have left myself no space, I find, to draw a final contrast between the coarse and soulless patriotism of the hour and that nobler Imperialism in which all true Englishmen, to whatever political camp they may belong for the time being, must still believe. In the federation of Great Britain and her colonies, and in the slow and sure spread of what is best and purest in our civilisation, there was indeed hope and inspiration for our race and a message of freedom for all the world. But true Imperialism has nothing in common with the mere lust of conquest, with the vulgar idea of mere expansion, or with the in crease of the spirit of mercenary militarism; its object is to diffuse light, not to darken the sunshine; to feed the toiling millions, not to immolate them; to free man, not to enslave him; to consecrate and not to desecrate the great temple of humanity. Some of its ways, like the ways of nature herself, must inevitably be destructive; the weaker and baser races must sooner or later dissolve away; but the process of dissolution should be made as gentle and merciful as possible, not savage, pitiless, and cruel. True Imperialism should be strong, but the strength should be that of justice, of wisdom, of brotherly love and sympathy; for the power which is bred of a mere multitude equipped with the engines of slaughter will, in the long run, avail nothing against the eternal law which determines that the righteous only shall inherit the earth. We are a people still, though we seem for the time being to be forgetting the conditions on which we received our charter, and deep in the heart of England survives the sentiment of a world-wide nationality, as expressed in the passionate lines of a modern poet:
Hands across the sea!
Feet on British ground!
The motherhood means brotherhood the whole world round!
From the parent root,
Sap, and stem, and fruit
Grow the same, or soil or name—
Hands cross the sea!
"There sounds the true Imperial feeling, which will survive, I think, long after the repulsive school of patriotism which I have called (for want of a better name) the Hooligan school, is silent and forgotten. Let me at least hope that it may be so— that Englishmen, after their present wild orgy of militant savagery, may become clothed and in their right minds. There is time to pause yet, although they are are already paying the penalty in blood, in tears, in shame. Let them take warning by the fate of France; let them try to remember the old sanctions and the old enthusiasms, for if they continue to forget them, they are in danger of being swept back into the vortex of barbarism altogether."
West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954), Saturday 27 January 1900, page 10