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W.T. Stead: "Europa", 1899

Europaby W.T.Stead
From The United States of Europe, Part I,ch.V. © 1899 by Doubleday & McClure Co.I HAD the good fortune to be in Berlin two years ago. A great capital is always a great inspiration. And Berlin, with its heroic associations of past wars, is more inspiring than most of the younger cities of the world. But that which impressed me most on this visit was the new building of the Reichstag, which had not been completed the last time I was in Germany. It was not the building itself -although that is imposing, if rather squat, with noble equestrian statues standing boldly against the sky- but the political fact which it represented. Here under one roof, around the same tribune, gather in peaceful debate the representatives of as many States as those which now make up the anarchy of Europe. It is the fashion nowadays to speak of language as if it were a tie closer than all others. But the belief in the unity of the Fatherland because of its common speech is hardly a century old, and long after Arndt had embodied the idea in verse, German fought German with the utmost indifference to the German tongue. The intense individuality of the German, his tendency to construct a special theory of the universe entirely for his own use out of his own consciousness, made the German races the most intractable material for empire-building on the Continent. They fought each other for the love of God; they fought for the pride of place; they were capable of fighting for a theory of irregular verbs. They were divided, and sub-divided, and re-divided again into kingdoms, principalities, duchies, and all manner of smaller States. Every ruler was as touchy as a Spanish hidalgo about his precedence, and no miser ever clutched his gold with more savage determination to keep and to hold than every German princelet maintained to the uttermost the princely prerogative of making war and peace. Not even the constant pressure of foreign peril sufficed to overcome the centrifugal tendency of the German genius. Again and again the wiser heads amongst them had devised more or less elaborate plans for securing German unity. After the fall of Napoleon, the best that could be done was the Bund, which was almost as provoking in its deliberative inaction as the European Concert is to-day. But the Bund perished at the sword's point, to be succeded by the North and South German Confederations, which in turn disappeared when the victories over France rendered it possible for the Prussian King to be proclaimed German Emperor in the Palace at Versailles. Since then unified Germany has been at peace. Germany has become a unit, and the Reichstag, although sorely distracted by the fissiparous tendency of the German parliamentary man, has been the parliament of the United Empire.How long will it be, I wondered, as I wandered through the building of the Reichstag, before unified Europe has its Parliament House, and the Federation of Europe finds for itself a headquarters and a local habitation for a permanent representative assembly?What Germany has done, Europe may do.The Union of Germany has not resulted in the disarmament of Germans, neither would the Constitution of the United States of Europe lead to the disarmament of the Continent. But no German now buckles on the sword with any dread lest he may have to unsheathe it against a brother German. The area within which peace reigns and the law court is supreme is now widened so as to include all German lands between German and France. That is an enormous gain. If we could achieve anything like it for Europe we might be well content.The progress of mankind to a higher civilization has been marked at every stage by the continuous widening of the area within which no sword shall be drawn and no shot fired save by command of the central authority. In pure savagery every individual is a sovereign unit. The mateless tiger in the jungle is the most perfect type of the first stage of human individualism. Whom he will or can he slays, and whom he will or must he spares alive. His appetite or his caprice is his only law. He has power of life and death, and the sole right of levying war or making peace without reference to any other sovereignty than his own. From that starting-point man has gradually progressed by irregular stages across the centuries, until the right to kill, instead of being the universal prerogative of every man, is practically vested in about twenty hands -so far as white-skinned races are concerned. The first step was the substitution of the family for the individual as the unit of sovereignty. War might prevail ad libitum outside, but there must be peace at home. After the family came the tribe. After the tribe, the federation of tribes for purposes of self defence or of effective aggression. Then came the cities, with the civic unit. From time to time a despot or conqueror, driven by sheer ambition, established an empire, which, however imperfect it might be, maintained peace within its boundaries. Then nations were formed, each with their own organism and each allowing at first a very wide latitude for private and local war to their component parts. In our own history, not even our insular position prevented our forefathers, long after they had achieved some kind of nominal unity, preserving with jealous eye the right of private and provincial war. By slow degrees, however, the right to kill has been confined to even fewer and fewer hands. The mills of God have ground as usual very slowly, but those who took the sword perished by the sword, and the pertinacious asserters of the ancient inalienable right of private war were converted from the error of their ways by the effective process of extermination at the hands of a stronger power, determined that no one should wield the power of the sword but itself. In Germany to-day, in place of a hundred potentates, each enjoying the right to kill, William II is the sole War Lord.And as it is in Germany so it is elsewhere. The right to suspend the Decalogue so far as the command "Thou shalt not kill" is concerned is now confined in Europe to William II, Nicholas II, Francis Joseph, Humbert, Victoria, and President Faure. These are the lords of the first degree, whose right to kill is practically absolute. After them come the lords of the second degree, who are allowed a certain latitude of killing provided they can secure the neutrality of one or more of the War Lords of the first degree. There is a nominal right to kill enjoyed by all the kings of all States. But as a matter of fact it cannot be exercised except in alliance with one or other of the greater Powers. Greece thought that it was possible to exercise this nominal prerogative of independent sovereignty. Her experience is not such as to encourage other small States to follow her example.But in reality the persons who have the unrestricted right to kill in Europe are even fewer than the six absolute lords. Europe is now practically divided into two camps. There is the Russo-French Alliance, entered into for the purpose of restraining France from precipitating war, which practically gives Nicholas II a veto upon the right of levying war enjoyed by the French Republic. On the other hand, there is the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria, and Italy, which practically renders it impossible for Austria or Italy to go to war without the permission of William II. Between these two Alliances there is the British Empire. In Europe, therefore, the right of levying war is vested almost solely in the Queen, her grandson, and her granddaughter's husband. Nicholas II, William II, and Victoria -these three are the Triumvirate of Europe. And as the late Tsar said to me at Gatschina, "If these three -Russia, Germany, and England- hold together, there will be no war." So far, therefore, we have come in our pilgrimage to the United States of Europe, that the power of the sword, which last century was a practical reality in the hands of a hundred potentates, is now practically limited to three persons, without whose permission no gun may be fired in wrath in the whole Continent.No reproach is more frequently brought against me than that of inconsistency. It is the most familiar of the jibes which are flung at me by both friends and foes alike when they differ from me, that they never know what I am going to be at next, and I am everything by turns and nothing long. These reproaches and sarcasms I have borne with the equanimity of one whose withers are unwrung, for I happen to be in the fortunate position of a man whose opinions have been on record from day to day and from month to month for the last twenty-five years. To all such accusations there is only one answer: Litera scripta manet. It is quite true that I have infinitely varied the method by which I have sought to attain the ultimate ideal that at the very beginning of my journalistic career I set myself to realize. I have supported and opposed in turn almost every leading statesman, and I have from time to time thrown whatever influence I had, now on the side of Imperialism, and then on the side of peace, and I have done all this, and hope to go on doing it till the end of my time. But to base the charge of inconsistency on this continual change of tactics is as absurd as it would be to accuse a mariner of not steering for his port because from day to day and from hour to hour he tacks from side to side in order the more expeditiously to reach his distant port.This question of the United States of Europe has been one of the ideals towards which I have constantly, in fair weather and in foul, directed my course. Nineteen years ago, in the critical election of 1880, it was my lot to draw up an electoral catechism which was more widely used as an electoral weapon by the party which issued triumphant from the polls than any other broad sheet in the campaign. In this catechism I formulated my conception of the English foreign policy in terms which, after the lapse of nineteen years, I do not find necessary to vary by a single syllable:
Question: "What is England's mission abroad?"
Answer: "To maintain the European Concert -that germ of the United States of Europe- against isolated action; to establish a Roman peace among the dark-skinned races of Asia, Polynesia, and Africa; to unite all branches of the English-speaking race in an Anglo-Saxon Bund, and to spread Liberty, Civilization and Christianity throughout the world." - "The elector's Catechism." General Election of 1880.
My last visit to Russia and the publication of this book are the latest efforts that I have made to realize the ideal which was clearly set out in the above sentence written in 1880. The conception in those days was confined to few, but nowadays the parties led by Lord Rosebery and Lord Salisbury would vie with each other in asserting their readiness to recognize the European Concert as the germ of the United States of Europe, and to develop the concerted action of six Powers in relation to the question of the East into a Federated Union of all the European States. It may perhaps be well worth while to form some idea of this new organic entity which it is the first object of our foreign policy to create. Are we repeating the crime of Frankenstein, or are we fashioning, like Pygmalion, a beautiful creature into which at the appointed time the gods will breathe the breath of life? In other words, what is this Europe whose United States we are seeking to federate?Europe is a continent. It is hardly as yet a realized personality. There was a fair Europa in the mythology of the ancients, whom Jove loved, and whose story once suggested to Tenniel the idea that John Bull might aspire successfully to play the part of the Father of gods and men. But outside mythology there is little personification of Europe. The symbolical group at the base of the Albert Memorial, representing Europe as one of the four continents, is almost the only effort with which we are familiar in England.But such personification of a Federation of States is possible enough. The United States of America form a federation which has its recognized symbolical embodiment in Columbia and its humorous personification in Uncle Sam. The British Empire is a conglomerate far more heterogeneous and wide-scattered than the United States of Europe, but we have our symbol in the heroic figure of Britannia and our familiar personification in John Bull. The German Empire, to take another illustration, is also a conglomerate of kingdoms and duchies and cities; but the first great effort of German art to express in permanent form the triumph of German arms in the attainment of German unity was the erection of the colossal statue of Germania upon the wooded heights of the Niederwald where she still keeps watch and ward over the German Rhine. But in all these cases it must be admitted there is a certain unity of national type which facilitates the task of personifying the federal combination.The caricaturist, who often precedes the more serious artist in the selection and illustration of themes of national and international importance, has not been slow to seize the opening offered by the first crude, tentative efforts towards international action in Crete by portraying the European soldier as a fantastic conglomerate, a thing of shreds and patches, clothed in fragments of all uniforms. Not so will the artist proceed who endeavors to present before the world the heroic proportions of her who, although the least among the Continents, is now, as she has been for two thousand years, the greatest among them all. The Star of Empire which shone in the remote past over the valley of the Nile and the plains watered by the Euphrates has since the great day of Salamis been faithful to Europe. It may be that the new Continent of the West may yet challenge successfully the primacy of the older world. But except in alliance with Britain, no such challenge can be dreamed of for a century, and Britain is European as well as American, Asiatic as well as African. For as the Tsar is Emperor of all the Russians, so Her Majesty is Empress on All the Continents and All the Seas.There is a charming little poem by Russell Lowell entitled "The Beggar." The poet describes himself as a beggar wandering through the world, asking from all things that he meets something of their distinguishing characteristics. From the old oak he craves its steadfastness, from the granite gray its stern unyielding might, from the sweetly mournful pine he asks its pensiveness serene, from the violet its modesty, and from the cheerful brook its sparkling light content.The idea is a pretty conceit, but it may help us to consider the distinctive qualities which the world may crave not in vain from the various component parts of this new composite entity, the United States of Europe.It is indeed good to regard our sister nations with grateful heart, to contemplate the gifts which they bring with them to the fraternal banquet of the peoples, and to realize, if only in imagination, what we should lose if any of the European States were to drop out of the world.First among the States in area and in power stands Russia, the sword of Europe against the Infidel, for centuries the only hope and shelter of the Christian East. Upon the threshold of the Russian home burst the full horrors of Asiatic conquest. Time was when every wandering Tartar from the steppes rode as master and owner over prostrate Muscovy. But the storm of nomad savagery spent itself upon the Russian land, which, though submerged for a time, nevertheless saved Europe.After a time the Russians threw off the yoke of the oppressor and entered upon their secular mission as liberators and champions of the Christian East. To their self-sacrificing valor the world owes the freedom of Roumania, the emancipation of Serbia, the independence of Greece, and the liberation of Bulgaria. Not a freeman breathes to-day between the Pruth and the Adriatic but owes his liberty to Russia. Liberty in these Eastern lands was baptized in Russian blood freely spent in the Holy War against the Moslem oppressor. Nor is it only liberty in Eastern lands which owes a heavy debt to Russian sacrifices. As Russia in the Middle Ages received upon her ample breast the shock of the Tartar spears, and made for Europe a rampart with her bleeding form against the Asiatic horde, so Russia at the dawn of this century arrested the devastating wave of Napoleonic conquest. The flames of her burning capital were as the star of the dawn to the liberties of Europe. Moscow delivered the death-blow to which Leipsic and Waterloo were but the coup de grâ ce. In later years Russia has done yeoman's service to the cause of humanity by bridling the savages of the Asiatic steppes and destroying slavery in the heart of Asia. She is now bridling the Continent with a road of steel, and from Archangel to Odessa, from Warsaw to Saghalien is maintaining with somewhat heavy hand the Roman peace. Russia has preserved in the midst of her dense forests and illimitable steppes the principle of cooperative husbandry, of a commune based on brotherly love, and has realized the dream of village republics locally autonomous under the ægis of the Tsar. In the face of Asia, fanatically Moslem, and Europe, fanatically Papal, Russia has maintained alike against Turkish scimitar and Polish lance her steadfast allegiance to the Christian Creed. Her travelers penetrate the remotest fastnesses of Asia; her men of science are in the foremost rank of modern discovery; the stubborn valor of her soldiers has taught the world new lessons as to the might of self-sacrificing obedience; her poorest peasant preserves unimpaired the splendid loyalty and devotion of the Middle Ages; her writers of genius, like Turgenieff, delight the civilized world with their romances; her painters, Gay and Verestchagin, display a genius as great on canvas as her Rubinstein and Paderewski in music; while in all the world to-day no voice sounds out over sea and land with such prophetic note as that of Count Tolstoy. There is in Russia, as in every other land, much that even the most patriotic Russians would wish absent; but who is there who can deny that, take her all in all, the disappearance of Russia as she is from the European galaxy would leave us poor indeed?From the largest to the smallest, from the Empire of the plain to the Republic of the Alps, is but a step. Both are European. Who is there among free men whose pulse does not beat faster at the thought of all that Switzers have dared and Switzers have done? Here in the heart of surrounding despotism these hardy peasants and mountaineers tended the undying flame of Liberty, and century after century furnished an envious world with the spectacle of a frugal Republic, whose more than Roman virtue remained proof against the blandishments of royal ambition or the menaces of imperial power. William Tell may be a myth, but the legend that is associated with his name is more of a living reality than all the deeds of all the Hapsburgs duly certified by the official Dry-as-dusts. And Arnold von Winkelried, he at least was real both in history and in song, and for all time the story of his dying cry, "Make way for Liberty!" as he gathered the Austrian spears into his breast, will lift the soul of man above the level of selfish commonplace and inspire even the least imaginative of mortals with some gleam of the vision -the beatific vision- of the heroism of sacrifice. To-day, when the day of storm and stress has given place to more tranquil times, Switzerland has become at once the political and social laboratory of the world and the playground and health resort of Europe. Here at the base of her snowclad hills Europe cherishes as the élite of the Continent the intelligent and energetic democracy which defends its frontier without the aid of a standing army; and while lacking alike rivers, seaport, coal, and iron, has nevertheless proved itself able to hold its own in the competition of the world."Italia, oh! Italia, thou who hast the fatal gift of beauty," hast the not less priceless gift of associations of history and romance, before which those of all other nations but Greece simply disappear. The nation which boasts as its capital the city of the Cæsars can never yield to any other the primacy of fame. Europe once centered in the Eternal City. The unity of the Continent, as far as the Rhine and the Danube, was for centuries a realized fact, when the sceptre had not departed from Rome nor the lawgiver from the banks of the Tiber. Nor is the Italian claim to primacy solely traditional. For whatever may be the political power of the Quirinal as world power, Italy makes herself felt through the Vatican. At this moment, in Chicago, public life is more or less demoralized because an Italian old man in Rome made a mistake in the selection of the Irishman who rules the great Catholic city of the West as the Pope's archbishop. And as it is in Chicago, so it is to a greater or lesser extent in every vast center of population throughout the world. But the Papacy, although more than European, is nevertheless a constant factor which must be reckoned with in discussing the evolution of Europe. The instinct of Leo is entirely in favor of peace and unity, but a firebrand in Peter's chair could easily perpetuate for another generation the armed anarchy of the Continent. Apart alike from politics and religion, Italy has always been a potent influence in promoting the growth of a wider than national culture, developing European rather than provincial interest. For centuries before Cook arose and a trip to the Continent became a thing of course, Italy alone possessed in her treasures of art sufficient attraction to induce men of every nation to brave the discomforts and perils of a Continental journey. From being the Mistress, Italy became the Loadstone of the Continent, and that distinction she has still preserved. To those treasure-cities of mediæval art which shine like stars in the firmament, reverent pilgrims every year bend their way as to most sacred shrines. But in every age, Italy, whether poor, distracted, and overrun by barbarian conquerors, or queening it as mistress over a Continent, has ever possessed a strange and magic charm. Dante was hers, and Raphael, Michael Angelo, and Savonarola -four names, the power and the glory of which are felt even where they are not understood, in the remote backwoods of America, or in the depths of the Australian bush. In modern times the revolutionary energy of the mid-century was cradled in Italy. Garibaldi restored to politics of the present day somewhat of the fascination which charms in the pages of Ariosto, while Mazzini revived in our latter day the primitive type of prophet-seer.Nor must we forget, in paying our homage to Italy as Queen of the Arts and custodian of the great sites from which Pope and Cæsar in former times swayed the sceptre, spiritual and secular, over mankind, that Italy of the present day is peopling the New World more rapidly than any of her sister nations. While emigration from almost every other country has fallen off in the last decade of the century, that from Italy has increased until it amounts to well nigh half of the European overflow. If this be kept up, we may see a new Italy in South America which may be for the Italian race what New England has been for Britain in the northern hemisphere.From Italy, which on the extreme south approaches almost to the torrid heat of Africa, I would turn to another land at the opposite extremity of the Continent, whose northern frontier lies within the Arctic Circle. Sweden and Norway, at present far removed from the troubled vortex of European politics, cannot vie with Italy in art or with Russia in political power, but none the less the sister States represent much which Europe could ill spare. We of the North land, at least, and all the teeming progeny that have sprung from our loins, can never forget the Scandinavian home from whence the sea kings came; and although our culture is largely Hebraic on one side and Hellenic on the other, the warp and woof upon which the Hebrew and the Greek have embroidered their ideas is essentially Norse. Nor can we of the Reformed faith, at least, ever forget the heroic stand made on behalf of the Protestant religion by Gustavus Adolphus and the brave men whom he led to victory on so many a hard-fought field. Charles XII., too, that meteor of conquest and of war, supplies one of those heroic and chivalrous figures of the European drama whose romantic career still inspires those who live under widely different circumstances and under remoter skies. Norway is the only country in Europe which vies with Switzerland in enabling the dwellers in our great plains and crowded cities easy access to the sublimest mountain scenery. In the social and political realm, we owe to Gothenburg, a Swedish town, the most helpful of all the experiments that have been tried for the solution of the liquor traffic; while in the world of books there are to-day no three names more constantly on the lips of the librarians of the world than the three great Scandinavians whose fame is the common heritage of our race; Björnson in fiction, Ibsen in the drama, and Nansen in Arctic exploration.Again turning southward, we find in Spain another of the nations which, in the flash of its imperial prime, endeavored to realize the dream of United Europe. Spain at one time seemed destined by Providence to the over-lordship of the Old World and the New. Between Spain and Portugal the Pope divided the whole world which was discovered by the Genoese sailor who was financed by Isabella of Spain. It is but three hundred years ago since Spain loomed as large before the eyes of Europe as Germany plus England would do to-day. Alike on land and sea there was none to challenge her supremacy. To-day Spain is the mere shadow of her former self, but even if the shadow itself vanished from the earth, the memory of the great days of Spanish chivalry when, like Russia on the east, she stood warden of Europe on the south, can never be forgotten. The chivalrous Moors, who have left the imperishable monuments of their presence in the fairy-like ruins of Alhambra, were very different from the Tartar horde which nearly extinguished Russia; but the secular struggle waged against them equally called out the heroic qualities of the race. As the Moor was the anvil on which the Spanish sword was beaten until it became a veritable Toledo blade, so in turn Spain became the anvil on which our malleable English metal was beaten into the broad sword and trident by which we rule the sea to-day. Of all her possessions abroad, Spain to-day retains but a few straggling islets in the Eastern seas. But Spanish pride is as great to-day in her hour of national decline as when Spain was at the zenith of imperial prosperity. To European literature she has contributed two great names -Cervantes and Calderon- one of whom is to-day to the majority of us but a name and nothing more; while the other, Cervantes, has contributed to the literature of the world one of the dozen books which are read everywhere by everybody in every language and in every land. To Europe of to-day Spain contributes little but an imposing tradition and somewhat of the stately dignity of the hidalgo, which the modern world, in the rush and tumble of these democratic days, is in danger of forgetting. Her authors are read but little beyond the Pyrenees, her statesmen exercise little weight in European affairs, but in Castelar she contributed to the Parliament of Europe the most eloquent orator of the Continent.How incredible it would have seemed in the sixteenth century had any one predicted that in the centuries to come Spain would be a Power of the third magnitude, while the Austrian Empire, shorn of all influence in Germany, would nevertheless rank among the half-dozen great Powers of Europe! But the incredible thing has come to pass, and Austria-Hungary, torn by domestic dissensions and threatened by powerful foes, continues to exhibit a marvelous vitality and indestructible youth. The land of the Danube with a dual throne, broad based upon a dozen races speaking as many languages -the Empire kingdom is the political miracle of the nineteenth century. Mr. Gladstone once scornfully asked, "On what spot of the map of the world could we place our finger and say, here Austria has done good?" But the answer is obvious. Outside her frontiers she may have done as little good as England has done in eastern Europe, but within the limits of the Empire-kingdom Austria has rendered invaluable service to the cause of peace and civilization of the semi-savage races whom she has tamed and kept in line. To act as schoolmaster, not on despotic but on constitutional principles, to Ruthenians and Slovaks, Poles and Czechs; to organize a State which is indispensable for European stability, out of such discordant elements as those which compose the conglomerate of Austria-Hungary, these are achievements indeed for which Europe is not ungrateful. The dual kingdom not only bears testimony to the possibility of creating an organic entity out of the most heterogeneous conglomerate of nationalities, it further affords the most signal illustration in contemporary history of the fact that States, like individuals, can find salvation by conversion when they truly repent and bring forth fruits meet for repentance, Fifty years ago Austria was a byword to every Liberal. To-day there is hardly any State in Central Europe which has worked out so many problems of decentralization on constitutional lines as the Empire of the Hapsburgs.Turning from the composite dual kingdom, we come to a State which in all things is the antithesis of Austria-Hungary. Austria-Hungary, although extremely diverse in its nationalities, is nevertheless, territorially, within a ring fence. The Danish nation, on the other hand, compact, homogeneous to an extent almost without parallel in Europe, a unity both in race, religion, and in language, is nevertheless scattered over a peninsula and half-a-dozen islands. In the State system of Europe, Denmark, with its handful of population, can throw no sword of Brennus into the scale which decides the destinies of nations; but the nation marches in the van of European progress. Our farmers have learnt by sore experience the energy and initiative which have enabled the Danish peasant to distance all competitors in the markets of Europe. The nation, simple, honest, hardy, and industrious, free from the vices of caste, is one of the most conspicuous examples extant of monarchical democracy. The days have long gone by since Denmark held the keys of the Sound and levied tax and toll on the shipping of the world as it passed through the Baltic to the North Sea. But it is worth while remembering that the freeing of the Sound was an international act, which, as far back as 1857, foreshadowed the collective action of Europe. The royal House of Denmark, which has given a King to Greece, an Empress to Russia, and a future Queen to the British Empire, may fairly claim to be one of the nerve-centers of the Continent. Nor can it be forgotten that in Thorwaldsen, Denmark has the supreme distinction of producing a sculptor whose work recalls the sculpture of ancient Greece. But there are hundreds of millions who have the opportunity of visiting Copenhagen, and to whom the genius of Thorwaldsen is but a thing they have heard but do not understand. The one name which is above every name among the sons of Denmark, which is enshrined within the heart of every child in every land, is that of Hans Christian Andersen, whose fairy tales are the classics of every nursery, and whose "Ugly Duckling" is one of the Birds of Paradise of the world.We may not agree with Victor Hugo in describing Paris as the Capital of Civilization, the City of Light, but Europe is unthinkable without France. The nation which for centuries was the eldest son of the Church, and which in 1789 became the standard-bearer of the Revolution, has ever played the foremost role in European history. If in the last thirty years she has fallen from her pride of place, and no longer lords it in the Council Chamber, she is none the less an invaluable element in the comity of nations. The French novel has made the tour of the world, the French stage is the despair of all its rivals, and in painting and sculpture the French artists reign supreme. There is a charm about the French character, a lucidity about French writing, a grace about France generally, to which other nations aspire in vain. France is the interpreter to the continent of ideas conceived in Germany or worked out in practical fashion in English-speaking lands. In all the arts and graces of life, especially in everything that tends to make the most of the body, whether in the food of it, the clothing of it, or in the ministering to the universal instincts of the creature man, they leave the rest of the world helplessly behind. We English -a slow-witted race, who did not even know how to build a decent man-of-war until we captured one of the French and used it as a model in our dockyards- can never adequately acknowledge the debt which we owe to our neighbors. They preceded us in conquest round the world; they were the pioneers of empire both in Asia and America. But the supreme distinction of France in the commonwealth of nations to-day is seldom or never appreciated at its full significance. France is the one nation in the world which, fearlessly confronting with remorseless logic the root problems of the world, has decided apparently with irrevocable determination that there are not more than thirty-nine millions of Frenchmen needed as a necessary ingredient in the population of this planet. Other nations may increase and multiply and replenish the earth, but France has made up her mind that, having reached her appointed maximum, therewith she will be content. No temptation, not even the continual multiplication of the surplus millions of German fighting-men on her eastern frontier, nor the envy occasioned by the immense expansion of the English race over the sea, is able to tempt her to forsake her appointed course. What is more remarkable is that this determination can only be executed by asserting the right of will and reason to control in a realm that the Church, to which all French women belong, declares must be left absolutely to the chance of instinct on pain of everlasting damnation. France may or may not have chosen the better part; but the self-denying ordinance by which she deliberately excludes herself from competition with the multiplying races of the world has an aspect capable of being represented in the noblest light.France! heroic France! France of St. Louis and of Jean d' Ark, is also France of Voltaire and of Diana of Poictiers, of Molière and Dumas, of Louis Pasteur and Sarah Bernhardt! What other nation has produced so many of the highest realized ideals of human capacity on so many different lines? Even now, when the nation that built Notre Dame and Chartres Cathedral has taken to riveting together the girders which make the Eiffel Tower, France is still France, the glory and the despair of the human race.Space fails me to do more than cast a rapid glance at the smaller States, each of which nevertheless contributes elements of vital worth to the great European whole. Much indeed might be said of Holland, that land won by spadefuls from the sea, protected by dykes and drained by windmills, in order to provide a level spot of verdure on which the most phlegmatic and industrious of mortal men could rear a sober commonwealth under a regal shade, and which, before it became a kingdom, had bidden high for the Empire of the Indies. Sea-power, now the sceptre of our sovereignty, was grasped by the Dutch before it was seized by the English, It was only in the last two hundred years that the Netherlands fell behind us in the race for empire.Belgium, once the cock-pit of Europe, is now the most crowded hive of human industry. In no State are more men reared per acre, nowhere does patient husbandry win larger crops from indifferent soil; while in forge and factory and in mine the Belgian workmen challenge comparison with the world. Belgian competition is pressing us hard in Russia, in Persia, and in many lands where Belgian goods were recently unknown.At the other end of Europe there is Greece -a name which, if nothing more than a name, is in itself an inspiration. The modern Greek, only too faithful an inheritor of many of the failings of his famous ancestors, has at least succeded to the heritage of Olympus. No matter what may be his political feelings or his misfortune in war, the Greek is still the Greek, and behind the rabble rout of office-seekers which renders government impossible at Athens there still looms the majestic shades of those "lost gods and god-like men" which have kindled the imagination of our race since the days when Homer sang the tale of Troy divine. As the Acropolis is the crown of Athens, so Hellas was the crown of the world, and that crown neither Turk, barbarian, nor the place-hunting politician of modern Greece can ever take away. The myths, the traditions, and the history of Hellas form the brightest diamonds in the tiara of Europe.
Earth proudly wears the Parthenon
As the best gem upon her zone.
There remain to be noticed but two of all the band of nations whose States will form the European Union -England and Germany. These two Empires, which are at present sundered by a certain jarring dissonance that is all the more keenly felt because their temperaments and ambitions are so much alike, are the Powers naturally marked out for promoting the complete realization of the ideal of the United States of Europe. Some months ago I took the liberty of describing the German Emperor as the Lord Chief Justice of Europe. It is a role which he alone is competent to fill. No other potentate on the Continent has either the energy, the ambition, or the idealism capable of playing so great a role. Germany, which, after the travail of ages, has achieved her own unity, is of all the Powers the best fitted to undertake the leadership in the great work of completing the federation of Europe. Germany, also, from her central situation, is better placed than any other Power for undertaking the task. The traditions also of the Holy Roman Empire still linger around the Eagles of Germany, and the Empire is already the nucleus of a combination which places the forces of Central Europe, from Kiel to Brindisi, at the disposal of the Alliance. The Kaiser quite recently informed us that it is not his fault that more cordial relations have not been established between the Triple Alliance and France. As this is written he is about to visit St. Petersburg, when he will undoubtedly endeavor to draw closer the ties which unite Germany and Russia. Should he succeed in his endeavors, the attainment of a practical federation of Europe without England would lie within his reach.But if Europe without France would be unthinkable, and if Europe without Germany would be Europe without reflective brain and the mailed hand, what could we think of Europe without England? It does not become me as an Englishman to say much in praise of my own people. But this I may say, that Europe without England would be Europe without the one Power the expansive force of whose colonizing and maritime genius has converted Asia and Africa into European vassals and has secured the American and Australian continents as receptacles for the overflow of Europe's population. And this also may be added, that Europe without England would be Europe without the one Power whose sovereignty of the seas is nowhere exerted for the purpose of securing privilege or favor for English flag or English trade. Nor must it be forgotten that Europe without England would be Europe without the one country which for centuries has been the inviolable asylum alike of fugitive kings and of proscribed revolutionists, the sea-girl citadel of civil and religious liberty, whose Parliamentary institutions have been imitated more or less closely by almost every civilized land. Europe without England would be Europe without her wings, a Europe without the sacred shrine where in every age the genius of Human Liberty has guarded the undying flame of Freedom.The Federation of Europe at the present moment is like an embryo in the later stages of gestation. It is not yet ready to be born. But it has quickened with conscious life, and already the Continent feels the approaching travail.It has been a slow process. The great births of Time need great preparations. Under the foundations of the Cathedral of St.Isaac at St. Petersburg a whole forest of timber was sunk in piles before a basis strong enough for the mighty dome could be secured. The Federation of Europe is a temple far vaster than any pile of masonry put together by the hands of man. In the morass of the past its foundations have been reared, not upon the spoils of the forest, but upon generation of living men who have gone down into the void from red battlefield and pest-smitten camp and leaguered city in order that upon their bones the Destinies might lay the first courses of the new State. Carlyle's famous illustration of the Russian regiment at the siege of Zeidnitz, which was deliberately marched into the fosse in order that those followed after might march to victory over a pavement of human heads, represents only too faithfully the material on which these great world fabrics are reared.Nor is it only the individuals who have perished by the million, in blind struggling towards they knew not what, which have supplied the substratum upon which the United States of Europe were slowly to be built. Political systems, laboriously constructed by the wisdom of statesmen and minutely elaborated to meet the ever-varying exigencies of their day, royal dynasties and great empires have all equally been flung into the abyss like rubble, after having served their turn to make foundation material for that which is to come. In preparing great political events Nature works with the same almost inconceivable patience and inexhaustible profusion that may be witnessed in the formation of the crust of the earth or in the evolution of a highly organized species. For, as Ibsen has said, Nature is not economical. And in the preparation of the foundation of Europe she has hurled into the deep trench so much of the finished workmanship of preceding ages as to provoke a comparison with the work of the barbarians, who made hearthstones of the statues chiseled by the pupils of Praxiteles, and who utilized the matchless sculpture of the temples of the gods in the construction of their sties.


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© Paul Halsall, January 1999

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