But not only were the necessary preliminary successes deferred far beyond the expected time of their accomplishment—Bloemfontein was not occupied until five months, nor Pretoria until eight months had rolled by since that October dawn when the Boers crossed the frontier into Natal—but the prospect of the end of the War soon began to recede into the perspective of infinity: and even now, after an interval of some years since the peace of Vereeniging, when, like the proportions of some huge edifice which can be truly comprehended only by the observer who views it from a distance, the various incidents and phases of the War begin to assume their relative importance, the difficulty of discovering some guiding principle which shall reconcile the Great Boer War with other wars is as great as ever.
Sometimes a cause can be found a posteriori by groping in the dim and deceptive light cast by an effect: or a process of exhaustion and elimination may be set up in which the qualities common to each side are cancelled and the result attributed to the credit balance which will appear under one of the accounts. We saw for some months a gallant and well equipped if somewhat amorphous British Army impotently endeavouring, though in superior numbers, to make headway against an aggregation of Boer commandos, and checked at various points on an arc drawn wholly in British territory and extending in a circuit of over 500 miles from Ladysmith in Northern Natal through Stormberg and Colesberg to Kimberley and Mafeking; and at each extremity of the arc was a besieged city. Was the military art as taught in Europe founded upon error, or had the British Army been negligently instructed in it?
Yet no European troops had had so much recent experience of active service. We had lately fought in the Soudan, in East and West Africa, in Burmah and on the North-West frontier of India; there was in fact hardly a year in the preceding decade in which the portals of the temple of a British Janus would have been closed. Moreover, our fighting had not been against trained soldiers, but against enemies who like the Boers were undisciplined, collectively if not individually brave men patriotically defending their own country. We therefore entered the arena with experience which no other European Army possessed.
Many hard things have been said of Patriotism. Dr. Johnson’s definition is well known, and more recently it has been styled the sublimest form of Selfishness. These, however, are not definitions but rather criticisms of certain phases of Patriotism, which is closely allied to Family Affection and, like that sentiment, originates in the helplessness and the egotism of the Individual.