At the Mermaid Inn

The Globe, Toronto: April 8, 1893


       The revival of the national sentiment or feeling again is becoming popular, as evinced by the successful dinner given by the new Canadian club at Hamilton. Mayor Blaicher's remarks were to the point, and will be appreciated by all true Canadians. The time has now come when many of these clubs ought to be organized all over the Dominion, making the national idea paramount in the hearts of the young men, and killing in the bud any attempt to foster on our soil old country feuds of racial, religious or other origin. I think I may say, as a Canadian, in a Canadian paper, without any disrespect to the classes referred to, that we have altogether too many St. George, St. Andrew, St. Patrick and St. Jean Baptiste societies in this country for the national good. They may be all very well for the men who were born on foreign soil. I can respect the feelings of the man who looks back to the country of his birth with feelings of love. But it should stop there, and I for one firmly believe that the young Canadian, who is necessarily practical, should save all his sentiment for his own country as a whole. This is where he was born, and where his children have been born or will be born, and he cannot afford to import foreign feuds, to the detriment of the national future. I have noticed that the men who sneer at any idea of a young Canadian having any national sentiment or feeling will not forget to honor or dishonor the natal day of one of the saints above mentioned. A great deal has been said in abuse or laudation of our respected neighbors across the line, but they have long taught us a lesson to our discredit, which we have failed to profit by, and it is this, that, whatever be their merits or demerits, they are first and last Americans, and intend to remain so, and woe be to any foreign influence, of whatever kind, that dared to place itself before the national sentiment in any section of her people.

       Some one has said that life is one long disease, and this world nothing but a gigantic hospital, and Heine added that the great doctor is death. This is one of those terrible sayings that may be uttered either by the egotist who has pursued life's pleasures to the utmost, and found therein in the end nothing but emptiness and spiritual annihilation, or by the philosopher who has sat all his life long with a raw and sensitive soul in the midst of the concourse of men, and brooded upon the desperate obliquity of human institutions and the hopeless inaptitude of human character, the vileness and instability of the average and the hideous blackness of the worst. You, too, reader, who are a thinking man, having before you an ideal of the human form and human soul divine, if you should stand at some unfortunate hour in a busy street of one of our thronging cities, and should watch the crowd go by you, the multitude of faces unceasing in their variety, but all marked with the struggle and care of the crooked propensities of life—faces, some of them weary unto death, some worn with bodily sickness, others hardened, withered or distorted with the countless maladies of the soul, greed, ambition, lust, drunkenness and many another; and, lastly, some even that will fright you with a nameless suggestion of vileness and loathsome degradation—you, too, will be willing to say in that unfortunate hour that life is one long disease, and this world nothing but a vast hospital, and, moreover, that the great physician is death. But, patience! Even in a time when these things are becoming most apparent to us may we not perceive the dawning of a new hope? Have we not already noted the beginning and spreading of a new conception of the higher life—a conception which has not yet reached the masses of mankind, but we certainly hope may do so eventually, though not in our day? This conception is the child of science, reinforced by the poetry that is inherent in the facts of the universe and all existence. Thus reinforced, the conception is a religious one. It is independent of the ancient creeds, for it does not trust for its effects to any system of post-mortem rewards and punishments. It is different from the old stoic virtue of the philosophers, which at bottom was merely prudence, a utilitarian quality. This modern conception is not a materialistic one, although at first it may seem so; it is, as I have said, poetic and intrinsically religious. It comes to those whom the new knowledge has made acquainted with the vast facts and secrets of life, arming them with a breadth and majesty of vision which withers away from the soul the greeds and lusts and meannesses of the old, narrow and ignorant humanity. The small ambitions and petty passions of this world seem infinitesimal indeed to him who once enters into the new conception and lives, as it were, in the very presence of eternity. As yet this new spiritual force only acts upon the few, for it is a modern thing, but its growth is sure. Spreading downward, with the steady extension and dissemination of culture, from mass to mass, it may in the end work its way into the mental character and spiritual habit of all mankind. Then, indeed, the world will become less and less a hospital, and the old cankerous maladies gradually decline and disappear.

       That it is impossible for a journal to succeed in advance of the general culture of the society to which it appeals is illustrated anew by the failure of Arcadia. In very many if not in all respects that paper was the best which has been issued in Canada. In its general style it was better printed and had less of the provincial air about it than any journal or magazine that has attempted to gain the sympathy of the Canadian public. But it was in advance of the general culture of the mass of our people, and it failed, as every such attempt must fail, in creating an interest in artistic work outside the circles which are already interested in art and matters pertaining to art. These circles are, in our Canadian cities, restricted, and in the towns and country they do not exist at all, so that the failure of such an excellent paper as Arcadia was almost a foregone conclusion. I doubt if it would be possible to support in the United States even a journal of similarly high aims, which would depend upon the interest of a cultivated class of readers for its success, unaided by any of the great piano firms. It has not been accomplished yet, and the musical and artistic papers of the States depend largely for their success upon subventions from the manufacturers of musical instruments and of artistic goods. At the same time, it is to be regretted that such a valiant attempt to foster and advance the culture or the country has met with such indifferent treatment, and Mr. Gould must have the very warmest thanks of all lovers of art and literature for his attempt. He has already done work of lasting benefit and importance for music in Canada, work that will live after him, and his life is but another example of how much may be done by a single man of high ideals and broad general culture. Music in Montreal would not be what it is if it had not been for Joseph Gould and his disinterested effort. It is, I say, wonderful what a musician of broad views and with an interest in all the arts can accomplish, not only in the sphere of his own but in the cause of art generally. Such a man, Mr. J.W.F. Harrison, succeeded in transforming the musical life of Ottawa, and, with his genial interest in everything artistic, he gave an impulse to culture which cannot be exaggerated. It is fortunate for a Canadian city to have its music in the care of a man who is more than a musician; and I daresay that every Canadian city has likewise a man who has been the means of fostering the small beginnings of what will some day be a great and useful impulse in our national life.