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THE close of the nineteenth century beheld the British Empire at the highest pitch of its prosperity. The records of every contemporary nation celebrate, while they envy, the multitude of its subjects and the orderly felicity of its citizens. Its frontiers comprehended the fairest regions of the earth; and its authority extended alike over the most dutiful of daughter-peoples and the wildest and most sequestered barbarians. The judicious delegation of the minor prerogatives of government conciliated the free affections of the Colonies; and the ruder dependencies were maintained in contented, if unenthusiastic, submission by the valour, the conduct, and the impartial justice of their alien administrators. Two centuries of empire had seemed insufficient to oppress or enervate the virile and adventurous spirit of the British race. It tempted the ardours of the Sudan sun at midsummer, and cheerfully sustained the rigours of the icy winter of the Klondyke. While the hardy soldier defended and continually propagated the distant boundaries of Victoria's dominions, the tranquil and prosperous state of the British Islands was deeply felt, if grudgingly admitted, by every class of their population. There, if anywhere on the earth, was to be found wholesome public feeling untainted by faction and wealth, unobnoxious to

jealousy. The distinction of Conservative and Liberal preserved the name of party government without its substance; and the purely formal opposition of denominations, rather than of principles, served as a useful check on the dominant party without risk of cataclysm in the general policy of the State. The example of France, her secular enemy, emphasised the just complacency with which Britain seemed to regard her condition. The republic groaned under an alternation of licence and tyranny; the monarchy breathed freely in the reasonable acceptance of laws, enacted honestly for the general good and applied indifferently by judges of grave sacrosanctity. In her foreign relations France alternately intrigued and precipitately withdrew from the consequences of her duplicity; Britain pursued her designs with unyielding tenacity, but in uninjurious silence. Unvexed by the conscription which weighed upon their neighbours, and secure in the protection of their invincible navy, the people affected the arts of peace, and received the accustomed reward of a single devotion. The workshop of the world since two generations, Britain neither dreaded the competition of strangers nor listened to the cautions of the more sagacious of her own children. The Recessional of the sublime Kipling and the economic speculations of the

inquisitive but censorious Mallock fell alike unheeded on the ears of those who were content to argue that the condition of the lower orders, though insufficient to their own appetence, was luxurious compared to that of their fellows abroad, while the easy splendour of the rich inflamed the emulation of all mankind; and that the public Exchequer supported with facility all burdens which the ever-increasing exigencies of the Empire might impose.

It was scarcely possible that the eyes of contemporaries should discern in the public felicity the latent causes of decay and corruption. To the vulgar mind the British Empire was a triumphant proof of the possibility, as of the blessings, of a wise democracy; yet in that very process of democracy were inherent the seeds of ruin. In the domain of Government the political genius of the Anglo-Saxon race, its bias toward compromise and detestation of extremity, surmounted with impunity experiments that would have proved fatal to any other 'people less singularly endowed. But while the leaders of the nation were satisfied with promoting or seeking to retard the popular encroachment upon the functions of Government, democracy infused a slower and more secret poison into the vitals of society. If the opinion of the vulgar was unacknowledged in Parliament, in every other department of life it insensibly permeated the whole spirit of the people. became a maxim of imperial


policy, a law of social development, a canon of taste. The Englishman of the beginning of the nineteenth century was accustomed to demand that his policy should be glorious, the accessories of his daily life unsurpassed in quality, the objects of his æsthetic admiration beautiful. The Englishman of the end of that period of decadence was content if they were cheap.

The student of that age will find melancholy evidence of degeneration in the printed records, and especially in the newspapers, of the time. The reported speeches of public men, the venal arguments of leader-writers, the tattling of the parasites of fashion, the statistics of the markets, the very advertisements, bear unanimous testimony to the debased ideas which then enjoyed a ready and unprotested currency. The empire, that magnificent fabric founded upon the generous impulse to conquer and to rule, was now formally regarded as a mere machine for the acquisition of pounds sterling. A Palmerston and a Disraeli had been the spokesmen of the earlier Imperialism; the later found its apt mouthpiece in a Chamberlain. The masterful truculence of the British gentleman, and the opulent imagination of the Anglicised Jew, this generation cheerfully exchanged for the ambitions of a manufacturer fostered by the arts of a demagogue. Gifted with an extraordinary intuition of the changing predilections of his countrymen, Chamberlain was enabled to turn, to the advantage of his own popularity,

the flood of patriotism which rose in the decade between the first and second Jubilees of Queen Victoria. He became the highpriest of what was fondly saluted as the new Imperialism, on the lips of whose votaries British Empire was synonymous with British commerce. His declamations, while they will reward the curious investigator with little that is either original in thought or elegant in expression, proclaim but too eloquently the altered feelings with which the later Britons regarded their greatness. Where they had once resolved to possess, they now aspired but to trade.

The jargon of the day clamoured for "the open door," by which phrase was understood a market which British products could enter on terms of fiscal equality with those of the rest of the world. In the manlier age of Drake and Hawkins Britain had opened her own door for herself; now her diplomacy all but petitioned for an equality of treatment which the growing incapacity of her own traders must, in any event, have rendered fruitless. Among the strange ironies which the historian of this period finds himself compelled to record, none is more deeply ironical than the fact that, in proportion as the nation came to regard commerce as its highest and only weal, so commerce itself lost vitality and astuteness. The degeneracy of the people spread to that very activity to which they had sacrificed their nobler sentiments of empire; and while arms and justice, arts and letters, were postponed in the general

estimation to manufacture and trade, these mercenary avocations were themselves pursued without energy energy and almost without common shrewdness. Like the ostrich of mythology, her head buried in the sand of obsolete traditions and antiquated success, Britain alone of the nations of Europe refused to educate her commercial travellers or to accede to the terms of payment required by her customers, clung to her chaotic weights and measures, and haughtily announced to the world that it must forgo such goods as its wants demanded, and purchase only what Britain was pleased to sell. In Germany, in Belgium, and in the United States sprang up keen and victorious competition; and though the vast wealth of England was as yet almost unimpaired, a few sagacious minds, while impartially blind to the more fatal deterioration of the nation's spirit, were already enabled to foresee and to predict the approaching disasters to its traffic.

At the same time, as it was thus sought, by menace or persuasion, to extend the principles of Free Trade abroad, at home they were eating, like a deep and consuming canker, into the very marrow of Britain. The insidious principles of Bright and Cobden had made her the workshop of the whole world; but they brought to her the physical debility of the workman as well as his wages. profits of the manufacturer and the cheap food of the operative were paid for by the starvation of the hind, the bankruptcy of


the farmer, and the ruin of the landowner. On every industrial benefit followed an agricultural calamity; and the prosperity of the town was remorselessly attended by the beggary of the hamlet. The movement of the population accompanied, as in every age, the distribution of wealth; so that the towns distended to cities and the hamlets disappeared in a wilderness.

The effects of life in cities were apparent and pernicious. But for the unbroken attestation of both printed and pictured records, it would be difficult indeed to credit the full horrors exhibited by such districts as Lancashire or the Black Country at the end of the nineteenth century. There the wildest flights of hyperbole were equalled and exceeded by dismal truth, and the sun was literally obscured at noonday. A host of ungainly chimneys loaded the air with poisonous fumes which oppressed the hardiest species of vegetation. The inhabitants, penned up by day in close factories or the dimmer and more stifling obscurity of mines, herded by night in crowded tenements, were pale, sickly, and meagre; and, by a malignant decree of nature, the species became more prolific in proportion as they transmitted less vigour to their offspring. The philosopher of that age observed that the immigrant countrymen supported the unwholesome conditions of the towns better than the feebler natives, and that their superior robustness conferred an advantage in the competition

for employment; but the second and third generations dissolved away in equal languor under the pestilent circumstances of an unnatural existence. The momentary profit of the fathers was visited in debility on the children, and served only to precipitate the speed of this hideous process of degeneration.



The universal experience of mankind confirms the opinion that the sole defence of a nation against external enmity lies in the preservation of a robust and high-spirited peasantry. The British farm-labourer had found himself naturally possessed of many of the qualities requisite for a soldier. form was vigorous, and inured to hardship and privation. He had a natural habit of obedience, and in many instances was already proficient in the use of weapons and accustomed by the pursuit of game to the simpler operations of war. children of the factory, from whom it now became necessary to recruit the army, had none of these capacities: they were feeble in body, insubordinate in temper, and habituated by experience to a mode of life which rendered them awkward and discontented in the field. As yet, however, the British army showed but few signs of deterioration from the standards of its glorious history. The courage of its legionaries was unbroken, and its officers, besides training them in peace and leading them in war with matchless courage and coolness, found superfluous energy to raise and discipline auxiliary troops hardly, if at all, inferior to the British regi

ments themselves. Northern India and the basins of the Upper Nile and Niger supplied excellent soldiers, who proved their valour and endurance in all the wars of the end of the nineteenth century. They constituted the major part of the successful expeditions to Tirah, to Khartum, and to Bida; but the very strength they brought to British arms was an insidious source of decline. As the warlike spirit and manly force of the white races succumbed to the enervating influence of industrial civilisation, the Government of London relied more and more on the martial virtue of its subject barbarians. These, whether in India or Africa, were as forward in the field as the British regiments, and undertook, almost unaided by them, the necessary fatigues which contribute even more than the sword to the successful prosecution of a campaign. It was perhaps an inevitable consequence of the imperial fate which impelled Britons to make war in every clime; since the severities of the Afghan winter, which chilled the courage of the British troops, were scarcely felt by the hardy children of Nepaul; while the Sudanese and Hausas, in their turn, were better able to resist the beams of an African sun. But it was significant, if as yet unnoticed, that the masters of the Empire grew either less able or less willing to risk their own troops in its unhealthier regions, and were yearly more disposed to delegate their defence to a mercenary army. The indomitable spirit of the English


gentleman prompted him to seek martial enterprises at the head of the alien levies, whose continual service proffered the fairest chance of action and honour; and the mass of the people, relieved of the cares of personal service, sank contentedly into the languid indifference of civil life. Black men and brown men, flanked with an increasingly inconsiderable proportion of white troops, won the British victories; and the cheaply fed British citizens were content to sit and acclaim their prowess from the galleries of the music-halls.

In sport, as in its analogue, war, the British degenerated with frightful rapidity. The very word had lost its original connotation; and the honourable name proper to the manly exercises of hunting, shooting, and fishing, whose charm consists in matching man's strength and cunning against that of wild nature, was usurped by childish or plebeian exhibitions of mere brute strength and agility. The Briton found his pleasure in bestriding a bicycle instead of a horse, in striking a tennis-ball instead of a wildfowl; nor was he even sensible of the degradation that could prefer a mechanical toy to a living creature with a will independent of, yet conformable to, his own. Even the older and more reputable games, like cricket, football, and skittles, which might have defended themselves as affording at least a semblance of wholesome activity to the youth of towns, were turned by a truly devilish ingenuity into engines of ener


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