Old and New Masters eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 290 pages of information about Old and New Masters.
whole courage of his country is in his breast.

That is an admirable statement of the Liberal faith.  Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was putting the same truth in a sentence when he said that good government was no substitute for self-government.  Wordsworth, however, was not an out-and-out Nationalist.  He did not regard the principles of Nationalism as applicable to all nations alike, small and great.  He believed in the “balance of power,” in which “the smaller states must disappear, and merge in the large nations of widespread language.”  He desired national unity for Germany and for Italy (which was in accordance with the principles of Nationalism), but he also blessed the union of Ireland with Great Britain (which was a violation of the principles of Nationalism).  He introduced “certain limitations,” indeed, into the Nationalist creed, which enable even an Imperialist like Mr. Dicey to look like a kind of Nationalist.

At the same time, though he acquiesced in the dishonour of the Irish Union, his patriotism never became perverted into Jingoism.  He regarded the war between England and France, not as a war between angel and devil, but as a war between one sinner doing his best and another sinner doing his worst.  He was gloomy as a Hebrew prophet in his summoning of England to a change of heart in a sonnet written in 1803:—­

    England! the time is come when thou shouldst wean
    Thy heart from its emasculating food;
    The truth should now be better understood;
    Old things have been unsettled; we have seen
    Fair seed-time, better harvest might have been
    But for thy trespasses; and, at this day,
    If for Greece, Egypt, India, Africa,
    Aught good were destined, thou wouldst step between. 
    England! all nations in this charge agree: 
    But worse, more ignorant in love and hate,
    Far, far more abject is thine Enemy: 
    Therefore the wise pray for thee, though the freight
    Of thy offences be a heavy weight: 
    Oh grief, that Earth’s best hopes rest all with Thee!

All this means merely that the older Wordsworth grew, the more he became concerned with the duties rather than the rights of man.  The revolutionary creed seems at times to involve the belief that, if you give men their rights, they will perform their duties as a necessary consequence.  The Conservative creed, on the other hand, appears to be based on the theory that men, as a whole, are scarcely fit for rights but must be kept to their duties with a strong hand.  Neither belief is entirely true.  As Mazzini saw, the French Revolution failed because it emphasized the rights so disproportionately in comparison with the duties of man.  Conservatism fails, on the other hand, because its conception of duty inevitably ceases before long to be an ethical conception:  duty in the mouth of reactionaries usually means simply obedience to one’s “betters.”  The melancholy sort of moralist frequently hardens

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Old and New Masters from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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