« AnkstesnisTęsti »
THE BRIGHT SIDE OF THE WAR
BY JOHN JAY CHAPMAN
THE invasion of Belgium gave the world a shock like the slipping of the earth's crust. It was an earthquake which had been silently maturing for centuries; and when it came it shook the globe to the centre. Every one knew, when he felt that oscillation, that the future of humanity was at stake.
The declaration by the Germans that their will was law rang with a note of defiance toward Creation: it was an attack upon every man. Moreover, it was blasphemy. It rent the inner veil in the breast of many a man who knew little of Germany, and little of religion. Not the sage only, but the man in the street, had a vision: a spasm ran through him. He was frightened, to be sure; but he was more awed than terrified, for he felt within himself that the powers of the universe were rising to meet a crisis.
Those powers soon made themselves felt. The great crash of evil was followed by a counter-crash of sanctity and heroism of faith in every form. The regeneration of the world did not wait for the end of the war, but began at once. France became, within a fortnight, the image of Joan of Arc. Unsuspected heroes and heroines flocked to the scene of conflict from distant lands. The sight of innocent suffering aroused in onlookers a pity which turned in many cases into sublime passion, and which in every case increased the intellect, generosity, courage, and unselfishness of those who felt it.
The world-war began thus suddenly
with the satanic announcement that might makes right, -as clear a statement of the proposition as ever was made, followed by a spontaneous roar of denial from peoples in whom the instinct of self-preservation rose to meet the challenge. It was the metaphysical element, — the claim of the Germans, rather than their brute power, that awakened the antagonism of the world. Man's nature vibrated to its roots against their idea. That idea is Self-Will. The instinctive piety of man abhors it. The mythology of every race condemns it. Self-will is, and has always been, the quintessence of Evil.
The struggle between good and evil, which is generally invisible and can be apprehended only by instinct, has been dramatized by the war, and the whole world has become the stage of a miracle play. Humanity enacts its great allegory. The size and expense of it are appalling, but the substance of it is familiar, and the vividness of it casts into the shade everything heretofore seen upon the earth.
One after another, nations are being stirred into the drama; and as they go, they pass by natural law into the two camps of good and evil. Nay, the passage is easy; for in every country the two camps exist already. The ignorant, the weak, the timid, - all who are already being exploited by some form of autocracy, greed, or ambition,
over to their new master without being aware of the transfer. They go by a chemical affinity to the aid of their
But the dissolving process of nature does not stop here. The individuals of every nation are being analyzed, torn asunder, divided by the claims of new allegiances, drawn toward the light, pushed toward evil, purged or damned -and effectively replaced in their relation to the universal problem.
If the power of Evil has never been so manifest in the world before as to-day, the power of God has never been so apparent. As for America, she has become a new land. The very first camp at Plattsburg was filled with the flames of religious fervor. It resembled an old-fashioned camp-meeting. But the camp at Plattsburg was merely a spark from the kind of fire that was kindling through the whole nation. Our press, our social intercourse, our letters, our standards of thought, speech, and conduct have been vitalized by the
Immediately upon the invasion of Belgium our newspapers showed a clearness and profundity of thought, and an eloquence which can hardly be matched in the history of popular literature. They became beacons to the people. The full publicity which they gave to all the German propaganda, knowing that the German arguments would defeat their own cause, showed an absolute faith in popular education -a faith which was justified. While the response of America seemed slow, it was steady, it was powerful. The leadership of the thoughtful classes was accepted. The solidarity of the country was revealed. Intellect triumphed. I doubt whether history can show any case of the triumph of intellect in a democracy as remarkable as was the acceptance of conscription by the American people when they saw that war
was upon them. They reversed one of the most deeply grounded traditions of their race and history, as it were, in a night, because they saw that both justice and common sense required the change.
Since that time every day has shown fresh examples of the intelligence which enables our democracy to improvise whatever shifts the times demand. Experts appear among us who know exactly how many Liberty Bonds each town can absorb on a given date. The work is done by voluntary effort. If the Y.M.C.A. needs thirty-five million dollars, the hundred million Americans are canvassed in a week. Where is the bureau, the system, the red-tape of this gigantic collection? The machinery appears and disappears as required, and by a kind of magic.
These popular 'war drives' have done more toward unifying our people than mere speechmaking could ever have done. Their political value is even greater than their financial value, and they have been conducted with consummate ability by the men who happened to be in control of our industry. These big business men-men whose whole training and purpose had apparently been commercial - have become spiritual leaders, guides who are striving to save the people from their own weaknesses and to wean us from idolatry.
Old truths which had come to be regarded as the vague intimations of religion, or as the dreams of saints, are now received on all hands as common fact. The mystics have always told us that every private act carried its consequence to the life of all men and to the future of humanity. But whoever thought that a man would say to us, 'Drop that piece of white bread which you are raising to your lips! The fate of the world five hundred years hence is at stake'?
It is the great pain which we have passed through, and are still in the midst of, which has opened our eyes and sharpened our ears till we understand many things which were formerly thought to be paradox. Nothing else except pain ever revealed these things to mankind. The world's religious literature has been the fruit and outcome of suffering. Therefore it is that the meaning of psalm, poem, and tragedy blossoms in the breast of persons who are passing through any great anguish. Around such persons dark walls of despair arise and cut off the view of the natural world. And next, these walls themselves become transparent and a new landscape opens-not wholly new either, but freshly seen. Grief is a perspective glass; and any great national peril consolidates men's minds into heroic clairvoyance and makes an epoch of vision.
To-day we are living in a time not merely of national, but of world peril, and the visions of all history are drawn to a single focus. It is an era of prophecy and the prophets, and things are
valued in terms of the spirit. Life and death are viewed as parts of a single scheme. The inordinate value set on life during periods of prosperity vanished when the hostilities began. The deepest moral mystery of the world, the mystery of sacrifice, was recognized, understood and acted upon by every one as a matter of course; and a wholesome glow came over humanity in conquence. The average soul was turned right-side-out for the first time in its experience; and all the forms of 'conversion' with which philosophy has wrestled for centuries were found beside the hearth and in the market-place. Indeed the sacred symbols and hieroglyphics of prophetic literature the treasured wisdom of the past—are no longer cryptic. Their banners hang from every window. There is a rejuvenescence in the streets.
No one can tell how long the war may endure; sometimes it seems as if the struggle might burn on for a generation. Yet we know that the faith it has evoked will outlast it, and will shine in the life of the world forever.
THE CONTRIBUTORS' CLUB
FURNACE AND I
SUMMER is the favorite time to advertise furnaces, for, although a pacifist might argue that being prepared for cold weather encourages frost, the practical persons who make and sell heating plants are firm believers in preparedness. They produce diagrams and pictures, showing how their furnace bisects the coal bill, and how easily a pretty child can run it from the front hall.
But my furnace is different. I defy the prettiest child imaginable to run it. Indeed, in a strict sense, I defy anybody to run it; for this furnace has a mind of its own and an odd ambition to behave like a thermometer. On a warm day it goes up, on a cold day it goes down; in zero weather it takes all the time of a determined man to head it off from becoming a large, inconvenient refrigerator. As for bisecting coal bills, the creature likes coal. I have even
thought that it uttered strange, selfcongratulatory, happy noises whenever there occurred a rise in the price of its favorite edible.
Before meeting this furnace I had lived in apartments, and my mental conception of a ton of coal had been as of something enormous, sufficient to heat the average house a month. A furnace was to me a remote mystery operated by a high priest called 'janitor,' whom I vaguely connected with the lines of Smollett,
Th' Hesperian dragon not more fierce and fell; Nor the gaunt, growling janitor of Hell.
I took my heat as a matter of course. If I wanted more of it, I spoke warmly to the janitor through a speaking tube, and after a while there was more heat. If I wanted less, I spoke to him coldly, in the same distant, godlike way, and after a while - there was less heat. In neither case, I discovered, did an ordinary tone of voice get any result whatever; and, although a fat man himself, he sometimes growled back through the tube very much like the gaunt specimen mentioned by Smollett. But I gave little thought to him. I had what is called an 'intelligent idea' that to produce more heat he opened a 'draft,' and to reduce heat he closed it, the effect of a draft on a furnace being just the opposite to its effect on a janitor. At night he 'shook the furnace down,' in the morning he 'shook the furnace up.' One gathers such knowledge casually, without conscious effort or realization. I had in fact no more curiosity about the furnace than about the sun, for I seemed as unlikely to run one heater as the other. Then, like many another man who has lived in apartments, I turned suburbanite. I had a furnace, and I had to run it myself. How well I remember that autumn day when I started my first furnace fire!
There sat the monster on the floor of the cellar, impassive as Buddha and apparently holding up the house with hollow as many arms as an octopus arms through which presently would flow the genial heat. I peeked cautiously through a little door into his stomach, and marveled at its hollow immensity. I reached in till my arm ached and my hand dangled in empty space. But my intelligence told me that there must be a bottom. Crumpling a newspaper into a great wad, I dropped it down, down into the monster's gullet, where it vanished forever. I crumpled and dropped another; I continued, until at last-oh, triumph of mind and industry over incalculable depth!—I saw newspaper, and had something tangible on which to erect a pyre of kindlings. Where I could reach I laid them crosswise, and where I could n't I tossed them in at varying angles, gaining skill with practice.
'It is like a great wooden nest!' cried I in astonishment. 'Now I know why the coal I have bought for my furnace is called "egg."
I lit the fire and made a grand smoke.
It rose through the kindlings; it piled out through the little door; it hung like great cobwebs to the roof of the cellar. With great presence of mind I hastily closed the little door and ran lightly up the cellar-stairs. The smoke had preceded me; it got there first through the registers; and more was coming.
I met a woman.
'Is the house afire?' she asked excitedly.
I calmed her.
'It is not,' I replied quietly, in a matter-of-course way. 'When you start a fire for the winter it always smokes a little.'
We opened the windows. We went outside and looked at the house. It leaked smoke through every crevice except, curiously enough, the chimney.
Ah-h-h-h-h! I saw what had happened. I groped my way to the cellar and opened the back damper. Now the smoke went gladly up the chimney, and the view through the little door was at once beautiful and awful: it was like looking into the heart of an angry volcano. Evidently it was time to lay the eggs on the nest.
I shoveled the abyss full of coal, and the volcano became extinct. Presently, instead of a furnace full of fire, I had a furnace full of egg coal. I began taking it out, egg by egg, at first with my fingers and then with the tongs from the dining-room fireplace. And when the woman idly questioned me as to what I was going to do down cellar with the tongs, I bit my lip.
To the man who runs it (an absurd term as applied to a thing that has no legs and weighs several tons) the furnace is his first thought in the morning and his last thought at night. His calendar has but two seasons winter, when the furnace is going; and summer, when the furnace is out. But in summer his thoughts are naturally more philosophical. He sees how profoundly this recent invention (which he is not at the time running) has changed man's attitude toward nature.
I am, of course, not referring to those furnaces which are endowed with more than the average human intelligence; those superfurnaces which are met with in the advertisements, which shake themselves down, shovel their own coal, carry and sift their own ashes, regulate their own draughts, and, if they do not actually order and pay for their own coal, at least consume it as carefully as if they did.
With a furnace like mine a man experiences all the emotions of which he is capable. He loves, he hates, he admires, he despises, he grieves, he exults. There have been times when I have felt like patting my furnace; and again,
times when I have slammed his little door and spoken words to him far, far hotter than the fire that smouldered and refused to burn in his bowels. I judge from what I have read that taming a wild animal must be a good deal like taming a furnace, with one important exception: the wild-animal-tamer never loses his temper or the beast would kill him; but a furnace, fortunately for suburban mortality, cannot kill its tamer.
When his furnace happens to be good-natured, however, a man will often find the bedtime hour with it pleasant and even enjoyable. He descends, humming or whistling, to the cellar; and the subsequent shaking and shoveling is, after all, no more than a healthy exercise which he would not otherwise take and which will make him sleep better. He is friendly with this rotund, coal-eating giant; he regards it almost like a big baby which he is putting to bed—or, at least, he might so regard it if putting a baby to bed was one of his recognized pleasures.
But, oh, what a difference in the morning! He awakes in the dark, startled perhaps from some pleasant dream by the wild alarm-m-m-m of a clock under his pillow; and outside the snug island of warmth on which he lies, the Universe stretches away in every direction, above, below, and on every side of him, cold, dreary, and unfit for human habitation, to and beyond the remotest star. In that cold Universe how small he is! - how warm and how weak! Instantly he thinks of the furnace, and the remotest star seems near by comparison. The thought of getting up and going down cellar seems as unreal as the thought of getting up and going to meet the sun at that pale streak which, through his easterly window, heralds the reluctant coming of another day. Yet he knows that he must and that eventually he will get