Obrázky stránek

For us who stand in the dusty matter-of-fact world of to-day, there is a touch of pathos in recollections of the ardor for democratic liberty that filled the air of Europe and America a century ago with such quickening influences. We may sometimes catch ourselves regretting that the inoculations of experience have closed our systems against the infections of hopeful revolution. “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven! O times In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways Of custom, law, and statute took at once The attraction of a country in romance! When Reason seemed the most to assert her rights, When most intent on making of herself A prime Enchantress, to assist the work Which then was going forward in her name! Not favored spots alone, but the whole earth, The beauty wore of promise, that which sets (As at some moment might not be unfelt Among the bowers of paradise itself) The budding rose above the rose full blown."

Such was the inspiration which not Wordsworth alone, but Coleridge also, and many another generous spirit whom we love, caught in that day of hope.

It is common to say, in explanation of our regret that the dawn and youth of democracy's day are past, that our principles are cooler now and more circumspect, with the coolness and

circumspection of advanced years. It seems to some that our enthusiasms have become tamer and more decorous because our sinews have hardened; that as experience has grown idealism has declined. But to speak this is to speak with the old self-deception as to the character of our politics. If we are suffering disappointment, it is the disappointment of an awakening: we were dreaming. For we never had any business hearkening to Rousseau or consorting with Europe in revolutionary sentiment. The government which we founded one hundred years ago was no type of an experiment in advanced democracy, as we allowed Europe and even ourselves to suppose; it was simply an adaptation of English constitutional government. If we suffered Europe to study our institutions as instances in point touching experimentation in politics, she was the more deceived. If we began the first century of our national existence under a similar impression ourselves, there is the greater reason why we should start out upon a new century of national life with more accurate conceptions.

To this end it is important that the following, among other things, should be kept prominently in mind:

(1) That there are certain influences astir in this century which make for democracy the world over, and that these influences owe their

origin in part to the radical thought of the last century; but that it was not such forces that made us democratic, nor are we responsible for them.

(2) That, so far from owing our government to these general influences, we began, not by carrying out any theory, but by simply carrying out a history,-inventing nothing, only establishing a specialized species of English government; that we founded, not democracy, but constitutional government in America.

(3) That the government which we thus set up in a perfectly normal manner has nevertheless changed greatly under our hands, by reason both of growth and of the operation of the general democratic forces,—the European, or rather world-wide, democratic forces of which I have spoken.

(4) That two things, the great size to which our governmental organism has attained, and, still more, this recent exposure of its character and purposes to the common democratic forces of the age of steam and electricity, have created new problems of organization, which it behooves us to meet in the old spirit, but with new measures.


First, then, for the forces which are bringing in democratic temper and method the world

over. It is matter of familiar knowledge what these forces are, but it will be profitable to our thought to pass them once more in review. They are freedom of thought and the diffusion of enlightenment among the people. Steam and electricity have co-operated with systematic popular education to accomplish this diffusion. The progress of popular education and the progress of democracy have been inseparable. The publication of their great encyclopædia by Diderot and his associates in France in the last century, was the sure sign of the change that was setting in. Learning was turning its face away from the studious few towards the curious many. The intellectual movement of the modern time was emerging from the narrow courses of scholastic thought, and beginning to spread itself abroad over the extended, if shallow, levels of the common mind. The serious forces of democracy will be found, upon analysis, to reside, not in the disturbing doctrines of eloquent revolutionary writers, not in the turbulent discontent of the pauperized and oppressed, so much as in the educational forces of the last hundred and fifty years, which have elevated the masses in many countries to a plane of understanding and of orderly, intelligent purpose more nearly on a level with the average man of the classes that have hitherto been permitted to govern. The movements

towards democracy which have mastered all the other political tendencies of our day are not older than the middle of the last century; and that is just the age of the now ascendant movement towards systematic popular education.

Yet organized popular education is only one of the quickening influences that have been producing the general enlightenment which is everywhere becoming the promise of general liberty. Rather, it is only part of a great whole, vastly larger than itself. Schools are but separated seed-beds, in which the staple thoughts of the steady and stay-at-home people are prepared and nursed. Not much of the world, moreover, goes to school in the school-house. But through the mighty influences of commerce and the press the world itself has become a school. The air is alive with the multitudinous voices of information. Steady trade winds of intercommunication have sprung up which carry the seeds of education and enlightenment, wheresoever planted, to every quarter of the globe. No scrap of new thought can escape being borne away from its place of birth by these all-absorbing currents. No idea can be kept exclusively at home, but is taken up by the trader, the reporter, the traveller, the missionary, the explorer, and is given to all the world, in the newspaper, the novel, the memoir, the poem, the treatise, till every community

« PředchozíPokračovat »