In regard to the great new roadways, Kingsway, Aldwych, and the broadening of the Strand, I have been grateful for the temper which seems to have presided over their making—a temper combining the necessary readjustment of past and present, with a spirit of sensitive conservation for those buildings which more and more England will realize as having a lasting value for her spirit.
So far as I have observed, London has been guilty of no such vandalism as is responsible for the new Boulevard Raspail in Paris, and similar heartless destructiveness, in a city which belongs less to France than to the human soul. Such cities as London and Paris are among the eternal spiritual possessions of mankind. If only those temporarily in charge of them could be forced somehow to remember that, when their brief mayoral, or otherwise official, lives are past, there will be found those who will need to look upon what they have destroyed, and who will curse them in their graves.
Putting aside such merely superficial “changes” as new streets, new theatres, and new conveniences, there does seem to me one change of a far higher importance for which I have no direct evidence, and which I can only hint at, even to myself, as “something in the air.” It is, of course, nothing new either to London or to England. It is rather the reawakening of an old temper to which England’s history has so often and so momentously given expression. I seem to find it in a new alertness in the way men and women walk and talk in the streets, a braced-up expectancy and readiness for some approaching development in England’s destiny, a new quickening of that old indomitable spirit that has faced not merely external dangers, but grappled with and resolved her own internal problems. London seems to me like a city that has heard a voice crying “Arise, thou that sleepest!” and is answering to the cry with girt loins and sloth-purged heart and blithe readiness for some new unknown summons of a future that can but develop the glory of her past.
England seems to be no more sleepily resting on her laurels, as she was some twenty years ago. Nor does she seem, on the other hand, to show the least anxiety that she could ever lose them. She is merely realizing that the time is at hand when she is to win others—that one more of those many re-births of England, so to speak, out of her own womb, approaches, and that once more she is about to prove herself eternally young.
New countries are apt to speak of old countries as though they are dying, merely because they have lived so long. Yet there is a longevity which is one of the surest evidences of youth. Such I seem to feel once more is England’s—as from my window I watch the same old English May weather: the falling rain and the rich gloom, within which moves always, shouldering the darkest hour, an oceanic radiance, a deathless principle of celestial fire.
LONDON, May, 1913.