At the Mermaid Inn

The Globe, Toronto: February 20, 1892


Sir Roger—What have we here?
Giles—There is everything under the sun set down with some show of reason; they run atilt at the world, and treat men and manners as familiar as an old hat.
Sir Roger—Think you they protest too much? I like a matter disposed bravely, but—
Giles—Methinks they have a genial tongue. Will you hear them?
Sir Roger—Well, an’ it be not too long I’ll have some sack, and you read on.

— Old Play.

       The patriotic idea has come down to us largely as a result of heredity, steadily changing its significance as the national idea progressed with society’s development. We are apt to call a man patriotic who claims to love his country, and so engraven is superstition on this point that the disclaimer of this virtue is regarded with horror as a sort of political atheist. A most remarkable picture of the practical punishment of this sin in a personality is depicted in Edward Everett Hale’s “Man Without a Country,” which all students of, or believers in, patriotism should read.
       But in the face of all this is it not possible that the patriotic idea has so changed with modern progress and the widening of the national idea that it has entirely lost its old significance? The national idea had its foundation in the first crude conception of the family tie, which developed in the matriarchal system before the nation as an institution was ever dreamed of; when the mother-love, the first and last divine essence of all that is greatest and best in humanity, expanded itself, and mirrored itself in the child-love, and filial gratitude which deepened and widened, as in the patriarchal age the family expanded into the tribe and then into the nation, and in the course of time the leading ancestor became the national god. So patriotism and religion sprang like twins from the same source and developed side by side.
       It is inspiring to look back on the patriotism illustrated in the great nations of the past, and to note the gradual effect on society. But society and the national idea have been working outward instead of inward, until the cosmopolitan idea has usurped the national to a large extent, so that what was once regarded as a leading virtue and mark of humanity would now be considered as a provincialism and a narrowness of vision. The old nations each had their own gods and religions, which shaped their national ideals. But the conquests of the ages broke down its old barriers, the religions assimilated and, like drops dissolving into one pool, helped to swell the great world religions that grew out of them, and with the change came the larger growth and vision of ambition and sympathy.
       The Roman patriotism was great, so was the Carthagenian, as was that of Greece. It was sincere and human in its immolation at the national altar, but it represented a stage when the national ideal and sympathy was limited by its borders. England, more than any other national of modern times, has developed the national idea, but she has already far outgrown this stage. It was strongest in the days of the wooden walls of Raleigh and when Nelson was a hero, but when commerce, emigration and science have helped to widen and dissolve the national horison, so that now we look back with a smile as well as a heart throb at the egotism and nobleness evinced in the pictures of those times. The old idea of loyalty to the sovereign as a person has changed to loyalty to the State as an idea and to us who are children of colonists the idea comes, if at all, in a religious reverence for the soil on which we were born and reared. But in these days of rapid emigration from country to country, where a community is composed of peoples of diverse origin, who have been compelled by the duties of citizenship to forget old heredities of custom, language and religion, it is impossible to expect a real and natural patriotism to blossom into being. Therefore the idea now becomes largely one of self-interest, with the supposed idea at the center of the best interests of the community.
       Where countries border, having the same language, customs, and almost similar laws, where the commercial interchange is eager to overflow on both sides, where intermarriage and emigration have modified each to the other to a large extent, it is almost impossible to build up a national sentiment in each bearing the slightest resemblance to the so-called patriotism of the past. The antagonism of Rome to Carthage, of England to France and Spain in the days of Elizabeth, would be an impossibility to-day, say between countries situated as Canada and the United States. The more men travel and read and think the more cosmopolitan they will become. The old national patriotism was a natural outgrowth of the national idea, discriminating, with a prejudice in favor of what was within its borders. The great results of this were an army, a religion, a language and a literature. These are all necessary to the old-time patriotism. The modern spirit is against all of these. The best element in all nations calls for universal peace. The language is common in many cases, and is growing more so every day. The great religion of humanity as a brotherhood and the ever-widening influence of science are making the human hope as well as the human knowledge universal. The literature of many countries is rapidly becoming the literature of the world. Shakespeare and Goethe have spoken to all Europe as well as America. Emerson and Carlyle, Hawthorne and Poe are classics for the whole English language, and even out of it. Tolstoi is as interesting to the American and English thinker as to the Russian. No country can now claim a great man for more than his birth and residence. This is no sign of the degeneracy of the moral element in humanity, but, on the other hand, is a sign of the greatness of its growth. It won’t be long until the national patriotism will be a thing of the past. Like the national religion, and the national egotism, they were great in their day, but they fulfilled in their decay the greatest religion (law) in that they died that the world might live. Onward and outward and upward is the motto of the day, until the brotherhood is come. And if patriotism has lived its life it is only that humanity—mankind—may take the place of the national spirit.

       While exploring the profundities of “The Prelude” the other day I came upon this passage, which is without a parallel in Wordsworth so far as I remember, for in it there is a description with an evident humorous intent. It succeeds, too, as Wordsworth nearly always does, and this is surprising when we consider how far from his usual ground he was. These words will be found in the seventh book of “The Prelude,” and they are intended to describe a young and fashionable curate:

There have I seen a comely bachelor,
Fresh from a toilette of two hours, ascend
His rostrum, with seraphic glance look up,
And, in a tone elaborately low
Beginning, load his voice through many a maze
A minuet course; and, winding up his mouth,
From time to time, into an orifice
Most delicate, a lurking eyelet, small,
And only not invisible, again
Open it out, diffusing thence a smile
Of rapt irradiation, exquisite.
Meanwhile the Evangelists, Isaiah, Job,
Moses, and he who penned, the other day,
The death of Abel, Shakespeare, and the Bard,
Whose genius spangled o’er a gloomy theme
With fancies thick as his inspiring stars,
And Ossian (doubt not—’tis the naked truth)
Summoned from streamy Morven—each and all
Would, in their turns, lend ornaments and flowers
To entwine the crook of eloquence that helps
This pretty Shepherd, pride of all the plains,
To rule and guide his captivated flock.

       The reference to “he who penned—the Death of Abel” is to Solomon Gesner, who was born in Zurich in 1730. His poem was translated into English in 1780.

       Some of our ladies have a Sunday afternoon mission in a neglected quarter of the city, in connection with St. Basil’s, a fashionable Episcopal church. Last Sabbath a little girl, evidently dressed in all the finery of the family, took her place for the first time. Her teacher asked her whether she had ever been at Sunday school before. She said, “Oh, yes; but not here.” Other questioning led to the information that she had only been in town four months. “And you have not been once to church in that time?” “No.” “Why is that?” “Well, we used to live near St. Basil’s, but we didn’t know it was Protestant. We thought it was Methodist.” This answer may well be left without comment; but there is an unconscious humor in it, and, besides, is there not something more than humor?

       Of all trees the oak is the most British in its character—broad, sturdy, rugged, earth-loving and permanent. The elm is classic in its generous sweep, Italian in its grace and richness of drapery. The most eery, the most inspiring, the most Celtic of trees is the forest pine, the white pine, as we find it on the northern waste, perhaps the tenant of some lofty ledge, reaching far into heaven, slender, leaning, with a few cloud-like flakes of foliage that seem to have drifted off from its stem and to lie afloat upon the inaccessible air. We hear it murmuring far above us in the quiet wind of morning, and its voice is like the distant sound of many long waves upon a sandy shore. At sunset it stands against the bright and silent west, unchanging, delicate, dark, and with a stillness, as we dream, like the stillness of eternity. The pine is the priest of the forest, leading heavenward the thoughts of men the flights of birds. Before my door, on the very confines of a growing city, in a little plot yet left of the primeval wood, stands one of the lordly masters, a survivor, I know not by what chance, of axe and fire. At morning, whether the sky be deep with summer or springtime or crystal clear with autumn, or the strands of its foliage be heaped with the January snow, it leads my eye aloft. Far up beyond its silent top my thoughts take jocund flight, bathing themselves like the birds in the radiant ether. In my walks I see it at sunset standing against the rose or gold or the translucent grey, and my thoughts pas off between its branches into regions of exquisite purity and repose.

       The appearance of The Dominion Illustrated Monthly, issued for the first time this month, again tantalizes the patriotic eye with the phantasm of Canadian magazine. There are several remarks which we had felt tempted to make about this publication but which we suppress out of a perhaps misguided tenderness for things Canadian. But there are one or two things that need to be said. In the first place if all the illustrations had been left out the number would have been a good deal improved, and, secondly, we think that surely the editor might have found some things better for his first issue than two or three of the articles and poems contained in it, “Red and Blue Pencils,” for instance. It is a pity, too, that he could not have avoided the general air of verdancy and provincialism that permeates the whole thing.
       Any publisher who undertakes to issue a Canadian magazine at this date must remember that there is a Canadian public, as yet not very large, but rapidly growing, which will inevitably apply to it the very highest and broadest standard of taste and will not be satisfied with anything jejeune or provincial. The attempt to publish an illustrated magazine seems to us futile on the face of it. Any illustrated magazine, to succeed, must be placed at once on an even footing with Harper’s or Scribner’s. People will not buy a third or fourth rate article because it is Canadian; and there would be no patriotism in their doing so, as some of our fellow-countrymen seem to think. On the contrary it seems to us that a man will best show his patriotism by doing what he can to suppress such things as tend to misrepresent and disgrace his native land.
       We should, however, exceedingly like to see some level-headed person establish a plain, sensible, unillustrated magazine or review which should honestly represent the fullest intellectual attainment of our country. Surely it is almost certain that such a publication would succeed and both accompany and carry along with it the growing literary force that we see around us.

       Already great interest is being manifested in the centenary of the birth of Shelley. The Shelley society has decided to commemorate the event by a performance of “The Cenci,” and to that end are seeking subscriptions for a fund of £100. The performance will be private. The zeal of the society has in this taken a curious outlet and the result will be observed with interest. The tragedy will, it is thought, be given in May of the present year, but the final arrangements have not been mooted.

       The letters of Von Moltke to his mother and his brothers, which were published a short time ago by Osgood, McIlvaine & Co., have proved of thorough interest and have in many ways thrown a new and delightful charm about this character so often imagined as one of mere severity and discipline. There was something even romantic about his tastes and his domestic affections. He was tenderly fond of his wife, who, by the way, was an English girl. He had even a sense of humor, and in many places it crops out in these familiar letters. In one of his letters to his sisters he writes, “My health is wonderful. I often lie unconscious for eight or ten hours—at night; I have no appetite after meals; towards evening such convulsive yawning and stretching, and all day utter sleeplessness, and restlessness in all my body. I only hope you do not suffer so.” This is certainly facetious. In one of the letters from Constantinople he puts into one pithy and apt sentence the character of Turkey and the Turks:—“This is the land of lazy ease, a whole nation in slippers.” Perhaps there is nothing so delightful as to discover the more human qualities of a great man, to find beneath the character which rumor has built up around him the geniality and interest in small things which are the sauce to life; and these are the pleasures in store for the reader of the letters of Count Von Moltke to his family.