A WAY of life is something more than the shifting relations of bits of matter in space and in time. Life depends upon such external facts. The all-important æsthetic arises out of them, and is deflected by them. But, in abstraction from the atmosphere of feeling, one behavior pattern is as good as another; and they are all equally uninteresting. The chief value of memories of infancy and young childhood is that with unconscious naïvety they convey the tonality of the society amid which that childhood was passed. The two generations immediately preceding the present time are so near and so far. We can almost hear the rustle of their clothes as they passed away in the shades. The tones of their voice, their ways of approach, linger. And yet the generation on the younger side of fifty know so little of them. The blatant emphasis of current literature has done its worst in distortion. Memories shed a quiet light upon ways of feeling which in literature become distorted for the necessities of a story, or of a comparison.
In the autumn of 1864 a small boy three years old was in Paris. He was, however, unconscious of date, of reason, and of personal age. The very notion of the great world of tremendous happenings was absent from his mind. He enjoyed as matter of course the love and petting from the family of parents, children, nurse, and the bright warm days. But one baffling, elusive memory remained throughout life, a thread connecting the child with the onrush of history.
The scene was a bright day, the nurse sitting on a seat facing a broad road, the child playing, a park with its beauty of trees and flowers and shrubs, a palace from which the road came; and whither the road went the child neither knew nor cared. Along the road a glittering regiment of soldiers marched from the palace, and, passing the seat, vanished into the unknown. That was the whole scene, disconnected from any background of date or place, and yet haunting memory in later years. Throughout boyhood he tried again and again to identify the spot. Each year for two months in the late spring he was living in a London house looking across Green Park toward Buckingham Palace. He knew every seat that faced the roads where companies of Queen Victoria’s Guards marched to and fro from the palace. The Queen herself, as she drove past, was a familiar sight — a little figure in black, belonging to the unquestioned order of the universe, but at that time, toward the end of the decade of the eighteen-sixties, too retired to be very popular. But the seat of his dream, with its company of soldiers marching from a palace toward the unknown, remained undiscovered.
Years later, in the summer of 1880, I was again in Paris, with my two elder brothers, one of them a schoolmaster, the other a tutor at Oxford. Again, as at the former time, we were returning from Switzerland. Scenes of infancy were entirely out of our thoughts. We were returning to work — the work of the master at an ancient school, of the tutor at Trinity College, Oxford, and of the freshman at Trinity College, Cambridge. We were young men immersed in the academic life of England. The future, like the dream road from the palace to the unknown, lay before us. But suddenly, as I stood in the gardens of the Tuileries, I found the very place of my dreams. The seat was there; the road was there; and the park was there. The dream that had haunted boyhood was discovered to be a reality held in memory.
The vision of the child had caught a glimpse of the pageant of history, and again the second vision gave the tragic interpretation. The palace now stood a ruin, with its charred walls. The Emperor, Napoleon III, had died an exile in England. The road led to Sedan, and the gallant regiments of the French Empire had marched to their doom. The final act of the Napoleonic drama, for which during eighty years Europe was the stage — this final phase, at the glitter of its height and in its downfall, had been flashed upon me in two visions of a seat, a palace, and a road.
At the time of the first vision to the child playing in the garden, secure within his own small world of feelings, human life was exhibiting every diverse phase of horror, enjoyment, and ambition. On September 2, 1864, Atlanta was occupied by the Union forces, and almost immediately Sherman submitted to Grant his plan for his march from Atlanta to the sea — at the very time when the child was playing in the garden. Bismarck was perfecting the policy which brought about the overthrow of Austria within two years. Italy was waiting to seize Rome. The Pope was consolidating his control over the Church, to balance his loss of temporal power. England was nearing the end of the second of its only two long periods of complete security, after the defeat of Louis XIV and after the defeat of Napoleon. Each period was marked by the dominance of a small group of liberal aristocrats.
But the history of the world is not focused in any one life. Lincoln had one experience, and his fellow countrymen had each their own experience. The great events that historians speak of influenced more or less directly the lives of all men. But the stuff of human life cannot be wholly construed in terms of historical events; it mainly consists of feelings arising from reactions between small definite groups of persons.
For this reason the generalized history of an epoch sadly misrepresents the real individual feelings of the quiet people in back streets and in country towns. For example, the Victorian epoch in England as seen from our present standpoint entirely misrepresents my memories of the tone of thought of quiet, moderately prosperous people at a time round about the year 1870. I am not talking of agitators, or of people harboring grievances, but of the ordinary type of leading citizen in a quiet country town. I have already said that the Queen was not popular, and her sanity was doubted. Later she was canonized; but that time was not yet. Also the Prince of Wales, later King Edward the Seventh, was then frankly disliked. The Princess of Wales was beautiful, kindly, and spotless in her conduct; but this only added fuel to the fire as stories passed around. I remember definitely hearing the talk of my elders, that if the Queen died there would have to be a Republic.
From that date the Queen rapidly recovered influence. She became an institution, a legend. Her very individuality, which in the middle period of her reign had annoyed, toward the end became the subject of pride. She was no namby-pamby person who courted popularity. But the Prince of Wales was lucky in the survival of his mother. About twenty years later, in 1890, for a short time he could not appear in public without the escort of the Princess of Wales to subdue the hisses and the ribald shouts. There had been some gambling scandals. But the history of England in the nineteenth century represents a loyal nation gathered lovingly round a spotless throne.
I lived in circles where, if anywhere, loyalty would be found. What really stabilized England was a relatively small group of aristocrats of liberal opinions. These men were highly respected, and had no intention of allowing the country to drift toward any useless experiments. For this reason the desertion of the reforming party by these men over the question of Irish Home Rule, in 1886, was a fatal blow at the old political habits of England.
As to the way in which these men, at the height of their power, managed the Throne, I have been told this story by the son of a cabinet minister who witnessed the incident. During one of Mr. Gladstone’s ministries there was a crisis in foreign affairs. The Queen vehemently objected to the policy of the Liberal Cabinet. For a whole series of cabinet meetings, Mr. Gladstone opened the proceedings by extracting from his dispatch case, with immense solemnity, a letter from the Queen, a new one each time. With growing solemnity, and with all the aid of his magnificent voice, he slowly read Her Majesty’s letter. The group of aristocrats who formed the Ministry leaned forward with marked attention to catch every word which emanated from the monarch. The letter always consisted of vehement reproaches to the Ministry for the folly of their conduct. The letter finished, Mr. Gladstone solemnly replaced the document in his dispatch case. The Cabinet then proceeded to business without one word of allusion to the letter, either then or to each other afterward. And the policy of the ministers was never deflected by a hairsbreadth. I doubt if any modern English group of ministers could behave in this way, so inflexibly and with such restraint. But that was the way in which the Whigs ruled the country. In England to-day there is no coherent body of this sort.
This story of Queen Victoria and a group of well-trained politicians is very trivial. It belongs to the frippery of government: how to deal with an awkward incident, of which the importance was more social than political. But the interest is to notice how a score of men with a certain sort of training do in fact deal with such situations. It belongs to the art of preventing minor difficulties from growing into great crises.
It is curious how detached incidents remain in memory. I can vividly remember the old bobbin man who supplied my parents’ household with kindling for the coal fires during the first half of the eighteen-seventies. I expect that these bobbins ought to have been called ‘fagots,’ but in the villages of East Kent we called them ‘bobbins.’ He was a curious old man, completely without education and earning a scanty living. He was dressed in corduroys, of an antiquity defying any exact estimate of date. He cut the scrub undergrowth in the woods near Canterbury, about seventeen miles away from us. He then chopped the wood into the required lengths, and tied the sticks up into parcels — each parcel, or bobbin, being about the amount required to fight a fire. He came through the village about once a fortnight, or once in three weeks, with a large cart piled high with bobbins. As he passed, he called out, ‘Bobbins! Bobbins!’ in a curious, harshly rhythmical voice which stays in memory after more than half a century.
The horse was even more decrepit than the man — an old, worn-out cart horse. The pace of the procession was about one and three-quarter miles an hour. They — the man walking beside the horse — plodded along, unresting and untiring, so near their end and yet seemingly timeless and eternal. He, his horse, Queen Victoria, and her cabinet ministers, all belong to the essential stuff of English History. So does my father, the thoroughly countrified vicar of the parish, as I can now see him half a century ago chatting to the old bobbin man. They were on very friendly terms. Unfortunately only one fragment of their conversation survives. It was the old bobbin man who said: ‘There are some as goes rootling and tearing about. But, Lor’ bless you, sir, I gets to Saturday night as soon as any of ’em.’ That is an authentic bit of village speech, nigh sixty years ago, and the speakers have all passed into their final Saturday night, together with their whole world of ways of life.
While on the topic of life in a country vicarage, another visual memory flashes upon me: there is an Archbishop of Canterbury, tall, commanding, stately. He is in a genial mood, with his back to the bright fire in the ample hall of the old vicarage house. He is laughing heartily as my father tells him of the theology of the leading parishioner, who found great comfort in the doctrine of eternal damnation. That incident is also sixty years since. The Archbishop and the leading parishioner must be added to the group of those who make up the stuff of English History.
That Archbishop remains in my memory as one of the few great men whom I have met. I mean men with outstanding governing force conjoined with capacious intellect. I do not think that he was subtle; but there was no doubt about him. Archbishop Tait ought to have been a prime minister. Fate made him Archbishop of Canterbury. I have always been grateful for my glimpse of him during half-a-dozen years, and for the family tradition of him during a longer period. To have seen Tait was worth shelves of volumes of mediæval history. He magnificently closed the line of great ecclesiastics who organized the intimate cultural life of England, round monasteries, village churches, dioceses, cathedrals, parishes, — in New England called ‘townships,’ — parish meetings, schools, colleges, universities. The line stretches from Augustine of Canterbury, through Theodore of Tarsus, Lanfranc, Anselm, Becket, Warham, Cranmer, Parker, Laud, Sancroft, Tillotson, Tait. The national activities that cluster round the archbishops, as representative leaders, are as much worth dwelling on as those that centre round kings and parliaments.
Tait really closed the line in the sense in which I am thinking. All these men from Augustine to Tait energetically acted on the policy that the Church was the national organ to foster the intimate, ultimate values which enter into human life. For the earlier men, the Church was more than that; but at least it was that. They refused to conceive the Church as merely one party within the nation, or merely as one factor within civilization. For them the Church was the nation rising to the height of its civilization. They were men with vision — wide, subtle, magnificent. They failed. Tait was the last Archbishop who effectively sustained the policy. Since his time, English ecclesiastical policy has been directed to organizing the Anglican Church as a special group within the nation.
But the failure of the earlier set of men was a magnificent one. Their policy prevailed for twelve hundred years. It civilized Europe. Country after country has discarded it as an archaic obstruction. Even to-day, Spain and Mexico are engaged in casting it away. The interest of men like Warham, Parker, Tillotson, Tait, is that they rescued the final stage of the mediæval vision of civilization from the reproach of decrepit reaction. Its end in Spain at the present moment is that of a backward-looking system, divorced from modern realities. Its supporters in Spain are mediæval, blind and deaf to the modern world. But Tait, Tillotson, and Warham, each in his day, were forward-looking men. They took the inherited notion of cultural organization, and tried to give it a new life in terms of the modern world. They failed. Tait was the last of the line. Since his time, smaller men have drifted along with limited aims. Their aims are quite sensible, granting their belief. But they completely fail to stir the blood of those who seek for a vision of civilization in this world.
Perhaps men like Warham, Tillotson, and Tait had gone back behind Christianity to the ideals of Pericles. But to-day, when we are blindly groping for some coherent ordering of civilization, we can spare some sympathy for the men who in England tried to give new life to the old vision which for twelve hundred years had served Europe so well. In England the death of the old ideal had a nobility worthy of its services during its long life.
To return to my theme of memories, we left the Archbishop standing on the vicarage hearthrug, laughing at the silly old gentleman who consoled himself with the thought of the eternal torture of his neighbors.
I can remember the old gentleman well. He was not at all cruel, but simply, incredibly silly. The Archbishop also knew him well, and that is why the religious aspect did not, at the moment, strike him.
Another picture of the old gentleman rises before me. He was taking the chair at a penny reading in the parish schoolroom, which in the evenings acted as an entertainment hall. A penny reading was a series of readings of extracts from good literature — or, at least, what was supposed to be good literature. For the humorous and pathetic pieces Dickens was the favorite author; and among the works of Dickens Pickwick was the chief favorite for the comic relief. A certain amount of romantic poetry also was a necessary part — usually Sir Walter Scott. One man did all the reading, someone to whom the parish looked for light, and leading in literary matters. For example, a clergyman from a neighboring parish, or a doctor, or a lawyer; in fact, someone whom the villagers would like to look at for an hour and a half. The entertainment cost a penny, as the name implies. The proceeds about paid for the cost of the gas and of the caretaker. The entertainer was repaid by a supper at the vicarage and a vote of thanks proposed by my father, who usually took the chair. Also I forgot to mention two or three songs, solos, with piano accompaniment, which came between the selections read, and gave the reader a rest. We only rarely rose to a violin solo.
These penny readings spread to every village in southern England at that time. I know nothing about the North of England so far as concerns the details of its life. In the South we were fully occupied with our own village lives. We took no interest in the North of England, which manufactured our linen and woolen clothes; no interest in France, whose cliffs we could see on every fine evening; nor in North America, whose epic of development was the greatest contemporary fact in human history. I am not defending the country folk of East Kent. Facts are stubborn, and it is my present business to state them as I remember.
On the evening in question, my father was the reader at the village penny reading. So the silly old gentleman, as the leading resident, was asked to take the chair. I see him now as though it were yesterday, rising at the close of the meeting, hemming and hawing: ‘The vicar — has asked me — to thank him — for his great kindness — in so ably entertaining us — and amusing us—this evening.’ He then had gained his sea legs, and ended quite fluently: ‘And so, in response to his request, I ask you to join me in thanking him for this magnificent entertainment.’ On the whole, what he said was the mere truth. But it illustrates how necessary is a decent reserve in the ceremonial of social life.
The penny readings were the first faint signs of a revolution in English culture. Its accomplishment took about fifty years. The England of the eighteenth century and of the main part of the nineteenth century consisted of a highly educated upper class composed of landowners, leaders in business and commerce, and professional men. But the great mass of manual laborers, of artisans, and of the lower end of the traders, were very deficiently educated, if at all. After the middle of the century, and more especially after the first move toward democracy in 1868, the education of the whole nation was seriously initiated. ‘Let us educate our masters!’ exclaimed a leading statesman in a speech in the House of Commons when the plunge had been taken. Of course the movement was slow in getting under way, and still slower in producing any visible effect. But now, looking across fifty or sixty years of conscious recollection, I can see that schools and universities have produced an entirely new type of Englishman, so far as concerns the mass of people.
The standard comments on English education of the earlier period were contained in the Essays of Matthew Arnold. At the time when he wrote they were true enough. But nothing in his Essays applies to the England of to-day. It is still fashionable for superior persons in England to quote him as though his criticisms still applied. But these superior persons are engrossed in reading literature and often have scanty knowledge of the immediate facts around them. One of my most precious memories is that I have, within the space of my lifetime, witnessed the education of England, and the change in English lives that that education has meant.
The old bobbin man, as he journeyed with his horse and wagon slowly from the woods near Canterbury to the North Foreland at the tip of Kent, passed through scenes of English History unthinkingly and unknowingly. There still remain in England individuals of his mental grade. But as a type he has vanished from the land. The gap in education between classes has been largely closed. To him the immense story of Canterbury, with its relics of martyrs, heroes, artists, and kings, was as nothing. He jogged along across the meadow marshland with Roman forts on either hand; he passed through the village of Minster, with its magnificent Norman church and its relics of a monastery that once ruled the neighborhood; he saw the spot where Saint Augustine preached his first sermon; he saw the beach where the Saxons landed; he passed Osengal, — that is, the place of bones, — perhaps the first of English graveyards. But all these things were as nothing to him. He could appreciate neither the past from which he sprung nor the forces of the present which so soon were to sweep away folk like him.
The age of a vast subject population, deaf and dumb to the values belonging to civilization, has gone. Also the old civilizing influence of the Church has passed. It has been replaced by secular schools, colleges, universities, and by the activities of the men and women on their faculties. In the age to come, how will these new agencies compare with the ecclesiastics, the monks, the nuns, and the friars, who brought their phase of civilization to Western Europe?
At the present time, the system of modern universities has reached its triumphant culmination. They cover all civilized lands, and the members of their faculties control knowledge and its sources. The old system also enjoyed its triumph. From the seventh to the thirteenth century, it also decisively altered the mentalities of the surrounding populations. Men could not endow monasteries or build cathedrals quickly enough. Without doubt they hoped to save their souls; but the merits of their gifts would not have been evident unless there had been a general feeling of the services to the surrounding populations performed by these religious foundations. Then, when we pass over another two centuries, and watch the men about the year fifteen hundred, we find an ominous fact. These foundations, which started with such hope and had performed such services, were in full decay. Men like Erasmus could not speak of them without an expression of contempt. Europe endured a hundred years of revolution in order to shake off the system. Men such as Warham, and Tillotson, and Tait struggled for another three centuries to maintain it in a modified form. But they too have failed. With this analogy in mind, we wonder what in a hundred years, or in two hundred years, will be the fate of the modern university system which now is triumphant in its mission of civilization. We should search to remove the seeds of decay. We cannot be more secure now than was the ecclesiastical system at the end of the twelfth century and for a century onward. And it failed.
To my mind our danger is exactly the same as that of the older system. Unless we are careful, we shall conventionalize knowledge. Our literary criticism will suppress initiative. Our historical criticism will conventionalize our ideas of the springs of human conduct. Our scientific systems will suppress all understanding of the ways of the universe which fall outside their abstractions. Our modes of testing ability will exclude all the youth whose ways of thought lie outside our conventions of learning. In such ways the universities, with their scheme of orthodoxies, will stifle the progress of the race, unless by some fortunate stirring of humanity they are in time remodeled or swept away. These are our dangers, as yet only to be seen on the distant horizon, clouds small as the hand of a man.
Those of us who have lived for seventy years, more or less, have seen first the culmination of an epoch, and then its disruption and decay. What is happening when an epoch approaches its culmination? What is happening as it passes toward its decay? Historical writing is cursed with simple characterizations of great events. Historians should study zoölogy. Naturalists tell us that in the background of our animal natures we harbor the traces of the earlier stages of our animal race. Theologians tell us that we are nerved to effort by the distant vision of ideals, claiming realization. Both sets are right. A daughter of John Addington Symonds, in a novel entitled A Child of the Alps, remarks: ‘Spring is not a season, it is a battleground between summer and winter.’
In like manner every active epoch harbors within itself the ideals and the ways of its immediate predecessors. An epoch is a complex fact; and in many of its departments these inherited modes of thought and custom survive, unshaken and dominant. But on the whole the modes of the past are recessive, sinking into an unexpressed background. They are still there, giving a tonality to all that happens, and capable of flaring into a transient outburst when aroused by some touch of genius. Nor is it true that these vanishing ways of thought only appeal to the more backward natures. On the contrary, we find men of capacious intellect and cautious natures endeavoring, in this way and in that way, to adapt the wealth of inheritance to the oncoming fashions of thought. That is how I characterized some of the outstanding Archbishops of Canterbury, from Warham to Tait. Such men disagree in many ways. For example, Tillotson and Tait stand in sharp antagonism to Laud. But they all agree in that they were endeavoring to adapt some generalization of the old ecclesiastical-feudal organization of mankind to the purposes of the dominant rationalistic-individualistic epoch.
We were apt to conceive the Puritans who in the first half of the seventeenth century founded the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as the direct antagonists of these men. But, as we now know, this is a complete mistake. These Puritans were endeavoring to carry over a remodeled ecclesiastical organization as a dominant institution in the new individualistic epoch. In many ways these Puritans are to be classed with Laud, as striving to preserve more of the old world than either Tillotson or Tait.
The true antithesis to all these men is Roger Williams. Curiously enough, this man, who more completely than any other expressed the new individualistic tendencies, seems to stand as an isolated rebel, outside his own times, and yet not fitting into the world of either of the centuries subsequent to his own. He embodied too completely the dominant features of the oncoming world.
In the last seventy years this individualism culminated, retaining as a background the monarchical, aristocratic social ways. These social ways were the recessive retention of the old feudal ecclesiastical system of the Middle Ages. We have watched these ways fading away into the undiscernible inheritance of the past. All that we can now see of them consists of funny little relics here and there — reminding one of the Lion and the Unicorn on the old Boston State House. But with this final triumph of individualism the whole epoch crumbled. New methods of coördination are making their appearance, as yet not understood. These principles of organization are based upon economic necessities. That is about all we know of them; the rest is controversy. The older principles of the mediæval system were derived from religious aspirations. Undoubtedly we have lost color in the foreground by this shift from the ideal to the practical; but the change is more in appearance than in fact. The practical was always there — the hard routine by which the folk of the mediæval times barely sustained life. The difference is that nature controlled them, while we now sec our way to the control of nature. That is why the topic of production, distribution, and the organization of labor is now in the foreground.
The other side — the shift in the prominence of the religious motive in social organization — that is too large a topic for the end of a paper.