I suppose a man’s truest happiness lies in the keenest energy, the conquest of difficulties, the highest fulfilment of his own nature; and I think it possible that, under the conditions of our existence as men, the finest happiness—the happiness of ecstasy—can only exist against a very dark background, or in quick succession after extreme toil and danger. It can only blaze like lightning against the thunder-cloud, or like the sun’s radiance after storm. For most of us other perils or disasters or calls for energy supply that terrific background to joy; but it is none the less significant that most people who have shared in perilous and violent contests would, in retrospect, choose to omit any part of active and happy lives rather than the wars and revolutions in which they have been present, no matter how terrible the misery, the sickness, the hunger and thirst, the fear and danger, the loss of friends, the overwhelming horror, and even the defeat.
We must not take as argument a personal note that may sound only from a primitive and unregenerate mind. But when I look back upon the long travail of our race, it appears to me still impossible to adopt the peace position of non-resistance. As a matter of bare fact, in reviewing history would not all of us most desire to have chased the enslaving Persian host into the sea at Marathon, to have driven the Austrians back from the Swiss mountains, to have charged with Joan of Arc at Orleans, to have gone with Garibaldi and his Thousand to the wild redemption of Sicily’s freedom, to have severed the invader’s sinews with De Wet, to have shaken an ancient tyranny with the Russian revolutionists, or to have cleaned up the Sultan’s shambles with the Young Turks? Probably there is no man or woman who would not choose scenes and actions like those, if the choice were offered. To very few do such opportunities come; but we must hold ourselves in daily readiness. We do well to extol peace, to confront the dangers, labour, and temptations of peace, and to hope for the general happiness of man in her continuance. But from time to time there come awful moments to which Heaven has joined great issues, when the fire kindles, the savage indignation tears the heart, and the soul, arising against some incarnate symbol of iniquity, exclaims, “By God, you shall not do that. I will kill you rather. I will rather die!”
[Footnote 7: An address delivered at South Place Institute in London on Moncure Conway’s birthday, March 17, 1911.]
[Footnote 8: Address on William Penn at Dickinson College, April 1907 (Addresses and Reprints, p. 415).]
[Footnote 9: Ibid., p. 411.]
[Footnote 10: Autobiography, vol. i. p. 239.]
[Footnote 11: Ibid., vol. i. p. 320.]
[Footnote 12: Autobiography, vol. i. p. 341 (from “The Rejected Stone").]