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will remain as they are, even to the end? Who can see the brilliancy of character already attained by individuals of our race, without feeling that there is a pledge in this that what has been done already in the individual will yet be accomplished in the nation and in the race?
If I did not respond with all my soul to that I would close the Bible to-morrow. For from first to last the Bible tells of better times. It came to our first parents and spoke of the serpent Evil crushed, not without suffering, under the foot of man. It came to the Israelite, mourning under political degradation, and consoled him by the vision of a time in which kings shall reign in righteousness and princes shall rule in judgment. It came to true, brave men, who groaned over the hollowness and hypocrisy of all around them, the false glare and brilliancy which surrounded the great bad man, and told of the day when the vile man should be no longer called liberal, nor the churl bounteous. It spoke in the clearer language of New Testament promise of this actual world becoming a kingdom of peace and purity, of justice, brotherhood, and liberty. It irradiated the last moments of the first martyr with a vision of the Just One at the right hand of power.
Now suffer me to interpret for you the expression of "better times." If I understand you, you
do not mean by "better times," times in which there shall be a general scramble for property; you do not mean the time when there shall be obliteration of all distinctions, no degradations for the worthless, no prizes for the best. You do not expect a time in which government shall so interfere to regulate labour that the idle and the indus-; trious workman shall be placed upon a par, and that the man who is able to think out by his brain the thought which is true and beautiful, shall not be able to rise above the man who is scarcely above the level of the brute. Those would not be better times. They would be the return of the bad, old times of false coercion, and brute force.
But if I understand you aright, you expect a time when merit shall find its level; when all falsehoods and hypocrisies shall be consigned to contempt, and all imbecility degraded and deposed; when worth shall receive its true meaning, when it shall be interpreted by what a man is and not by what he has, nor by what his relations have been. You want the restitution of all things to reality. Those are better times.
Now, then, let us look at our England. Has she any part in these better times? They tell us that England's day is past. I have heard foreign philosophers dissect our political state, and, with
cold-blooded triumph, by all the precedents of the past, anticipate our approaching fall. It may be so. In the history of the past, in the relics and ruins around us, there are the solemn monuments of nations once great that are now nothing. The land of the Pharaohs is in decay; its population is now diminishing, and the sand of the desert daily silting up the temples of her former magnificence: Rome is broken into fragments: Jerusalem's last sob is hushed. Spain once had an empire on which the sun never set, because the moment he set on her possessions in the east, he rose on her possessions in the west. Spain lies now in her hopeless struggle like the blackened hull of a vessel that has been lightning-struck, rolling and heaving helplessly as the ocean wills. Genoa, Venice, Holland, once had an eastern traffic. Upon them the same law of decay has passed, and the weed rots on the side of palaces that are now the abode of paupers.
It may be that such a destiny is in store for England. But one thing is certain, that the decay of morals in all these cases preceded the decay of institutions. The inward ruin preceded the political. So long as there was inward strength of constitution, so long intestine commotions were thrown off easily to the surface; so long as the nation was united in itself, so long were the attacks
of enemies thrown off like the waves from the rock. To borrow a Scripture metaphor, if there were heard in the political heavens of a devoted nation or a devoted city the shrill shriek of the judgment eagles plunging for their prey, it was not till moral corruption had reduced the body of the nation to a carcase. Where the body was the eagles were gathered together. Looking to our beloved country, we see nothing of that kind. Her moral character seems yet sound. Healthy feeling is among us. A few weeks ago I stood in the lower room of this building, anxious to be a witness of the spirit in which you were conducting your undertaking. The speakers that evening, with one or two exceptions, were all working men. I heard, not eloquence, but something far better— straightforward, honest, English, manly common sense. A high moral tone pervaded all that was said. I heard vice decried. I heard lounging, drinking, smoking, all the evils that ruin the health and character of the artizan, sternly condemned. I trust that it did my heart good. And I hesitate not to say that I left that room with feelings enlarged in sympathy. I trod through the dark streets that evening with a more elastic step, and a lighter heart; I felt a distincter hope for this country-I felt proud of belonging to a nation whose labouring men could hold such a
tone as that. Through all England we see the same thing; increasing moral earnestness, a deeper purpose, a more fixed resolve. Even in our justice do we see the same healthy tone. Justice is no longer the weak, passionate outbreak of vindictive feeling against a criminal for the injury he has done; in the very moment of her worst insult England can hold the sword suspended, and refuse to strike until she has maturely weighed not only what is due to the majesty of offended law, but besides, how much to the frailty of an erring judgment.
A striking exhibition of that same tone we have in the character of our press. On the whole, the press is on the side of rectitude. There is a paper familiar to us all, which is the representative of English humour. It is dedicated to mirth and jollity; but it is a significant feature of our times, and I believe a new one, that the comic satire of a country, expressed in a periodical, which tests a country's feeling because of its universal circulation, should be, on the whole, on the side of right. It takes the side of the oppressed; it is never bitter except against what at least seems unjust and insincere. It is rigidly correct in purity, distinctly saying in all this that England even in her hour of mirth is resolved to permit no encroachment on her moral tone.