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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 12

Improving Signs of the Times

Improving Signs of the Times.

The last ten years have, in many respects, been times of deep discouragement to the Friends of Peace. Dark clouds of war have brooded over many parts of the world; and this country, as usual, has taken an active and foremost part in letting loose the dogs of war, to scourge and ravage the earth. In Russia, in India, in China, in Japan, and now, we fear, again, in Caffraria, Great Britain has plunged into the murderous strife of war, and made its desolations to abound amongst mankind. The great civil war in America has reflected only too truly the sin and shame which have for ages been the characteristic disgrace of Christendom in the Old World. Prussia and Austria, like two great millitary bullies, have dyed their swords with the blood of dogged little Denmark; and France has been made to endure the ignominy of playing the part of military jackal for another empire in Mexico. Partly as the cause, partly as the consequence of all this fighting, there has been a demoralization of the popular taste and popular conscience, to an extent hardly ever witnessed before. One of the most disheartening signs of the times was the too ready and general subservience of the press to the unchristian and passionate temper and spirit of the age. Journalists, with a few honourable exceptions, were only too ready to curry popular favour by pandering to the war-like inebriation of the hour. They followed when they

London: Job Caudwkll, 335, Strand. W.C.

Simpkin, Marshall. & Co., and Kent & Co.

page 540 ought to have led, and through following, became leaders in the general march to mischief. The Times, indeed, had the audacity to claim special credit and honour as the chief instigator and principal bulwark of the Russian war. No doubt the brilliant writing of that journal, in describing the achievements of that war, and its passionate appeals to the English nation to prosecute it with vigour and efficiency, did much to blind the people to the immoralities of such a conflict, and to reconcile them to its enormous sacrifices and sufferings. If, however, the energy and endurance of the British people throughout that short but disastrous war, are to be accepted as proofs of the power and influence of the Times newspaper, in this country, the hellish passions of which the war was so prolific must be accepted also as a proof of the imfamy of a journal which for four years traded so profitably upon the calamities and crimes of its dupes. So long as the evil counsels of unscrupulous journals prevailed, little was to be hoped for in the interests of permanent and universal peace. The efforts of the Peace Society to make Christianity the basis of popular patriotism being scouted and derided, men were taught to believe that he only was worthy the name of an Englishman who was ready to draw the sword at every provocation, and to insist upon England's right to dominate and dogmatise in every quarter of the globe.

The spirits and hopes of the Peace party were, not unnaturally, depressed when they saw the extent to which counsels such as these prevailed, and observed the readiness and credulity with which they were received and carried out by the people. It is, however, only just to acknowledge (and the duty is as gratifying as it is just,) that a great change for the better begins to characterise the tone of a few at least of the most popular organs of the London Daily Press. We quote, with special satisfaction, the following extract from a recent leading article in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, which is written in a tone so healthful and magnanimous, that we cannot but hail it as a good sign of the times in which we live, and as a foretaste and hope of still better and stronger things, in the interests of peace, yet to come from the same source. The Daily Telegraph says:—"Formerly when we had always some quarrel to pick, or to settle, or to fight about, that man was the Minister after the nation's heart who was conceived to be the sturdiest guardian of its honour. What government had he humbled, either in diplomacy or war? What intrigues had he baffled? What campaigns had he brought to a successful issue? Such were the questions by which we estimated the position of a Walpole or a Pitt. Now, however, we have come to believe that a restless, meddlesome policy is as unworthy of a great nation as of a private individual; that a statesman has no need to roam about the world giving advice or distributing blows; and that the best thing he can do is to stay at home. There he will find plenty of things waiting to be set right, and if possessed with the spirit of his age, he will value the verdict of the future, that "he wrought the people lasting good," more than the semi-barbaric plaudits that greet the man who can point to his handiwork in triumphant" battle-fields and captured cities.

When newspapers write thus, people may hope that "the beginning page 541 of the end" of war is come. True, "one swallow does not make a summer," and one wise sentence in a newspaper does not establish peace on earth and good will amongst men. Nevertheless, we give joyous welcome to the first swallow, accepting him as the forerunner of the host who are to follow. So one such utterance as that of the Daily Telegraph should have a glad sound in the people's ears, since it strikes a new key-note, the echoes of which shall be caught, not alone from that one vibration, but from the ten thousand chords that shall be struck in unison with the note of this bold musician, who lays his hand upon and stills the harsh discords, harped by the spirit of War, and seeks to prepare the people for a happier minstrelsy, and a more triumphant song.

The Daily Telegraph must have been conscious of a certain change in the currents of popular taste and sympathy, or it would not have ventured to pronounce so decisively against a line of policy, which, at one time, was so remarkably characteristic of the English Nation. We need not travel so far back as the age of "a Walpole or a Pitt" to find a Minister whose foreign policy might be quoted as an exact illustration of that so emphatically condemned by the Telegraph. A Minister might be found much nearer our own times, who has been "a minister after the people's heart," because he has been so ready, through an unusually long political life, to "roam about the world, giving advice and distributing blows," and who now, in old age, thinks it necessary to put his countrymen to enormous expense, to guard their shores with fortifications, for which there is no other plausible pretence of necessity than that very policy of restless mischief-making which has been the parent of its own fears and suspicions; and which leaves its author in old age without the comforting recollection that, as a popular minister, "he has wrought the people's lasting good," but on the contrary, that he will leave them burdened with the most enormous military and naval expenditure ever known in time of peace. The new Parliament should hasten to take advantage of the improving spirit of the age, to abate the nuisance of these prodigious standing armaments, for which no excuse can be offered by a nation which has, happily, no quarrel to pick, to settle, or to fight about, and will have little prospect of any such so soon as she ceases to put confidence in any minister whose chief qualification for office may be his reckless disposition to offer advice to other nations or to distribute blows.

E. F.