It is difficult to appraise the value of Present happenings. When the waters are out and the old landmarks are being swept away, it is rash to prophesy what will appear when the deluge is past, and the floods subside. It is doubtful whether any people can justly estimate the history which it helps to make. An aloofness from any movement is essential to an unbiased judgment. An informed and thought-provoking writer in a well known literary journal has recently expressed the opinion that we are still too near the great Victorian writers to be qualified to assign them their final place; that while there is little likelihood that the great figures of the romantic period will be subjected to serious revaluation; that while Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Lamb, and Hazlitt have been accorded their abiding niche in the temple of fame; there is considerable probability that Carlyle, Tennyson, Browning, Matthew Arnold, and others of their time, will have to wait for an impartial and unquestioned estimate of their rank and power.
We are too closely associated with the conflicting currents of thought which the War has evoked to be able to assess the moral and spiritual values of this amazing tragedy. He who looks for the War to produce at one blow that which the Churches have failed to accomplish in many generations, is surely heading for the chilly waters of disillusion. Nevertheless, he who holds that the wondrous transition which we have witnessed, from peaceful avocations to the clash of arms and the impact of hostile hosts, has left us unchanged in the deepest things of being, can have little claim to be regarded seriously. Great upheavals create new and unexpected hungers and thirsts. A fresh environment emphasizes the value of privileges hitherto despised. The far country and the unsatisfying husks awaken an "intolerable craving" for the Father’s House. A great call to a nation’s manhood startles it from slumber and makes it aware, and there is little doubt that while we are witnessing the frenzied death struggles of much that has been costly, unjust, cruel and vicious, we are also at the dawn of an era not less pregnant with possibilities than the Renaissance period or the French Revolution.
That versatile and informed writer, whose nom-de-plume is Katharine Tynan, has recently said that:
"Poetry, which was languid before the War, has been recreated by the War and the great emotions of the War. The poets have now great subjects for their poetry, and they rise to be worthy of them. Poets are making poetry, and it is being read with avidity, because the War which has shattered many things has rebuilt our ideals, and poetry, unless it be unworthy, is the expression of the ideal in the soul of man...The storm which has shaken down so many nests would seem to have brought England back to be a grove of singing birds."
The listeners among the trees are aware of many rich, new voices singing "in full-throated ease." It was Rupert Brooke who, in the last hours of his life, gave splendid utterance to the new birth which England’s manhood experienced when confronted by the great challenge, and if his famous sonnets have any spiritual significance, they denote a nation awake and aware.
Laurence Binyon, whose poetic gifts are arresting the attention of many, has given masterly expression to the new spirit into which our noblest manhood and womanhood have been baptized. Whoever would catch the subtle music of his lyre, comprehend the splendid reach of his vision, and appreciate the rare austerity of his thought—let him read "The Cause," with its fine concluding stanza:
Like rivers singing to the sea!
You count no careful cost; you know;
Of that far secret you are free.
And life in you its splendors spending
Sings the stars’ song that hath no ending.
The fine promise of a race is its dreamers and seers, and our immediate hope is our splendid manhood and woman-hood, now awakened out of sleeping and already seeing a new civilization fair and satisfying rising from the ashes and ruins of the old. We have traveled far in these four sad years of War, and have great and needful lessons. The bankruptcy of the unaided intellect has startled us into seriousness. The inadequacy of scientific and material progress has stood naked before our eyes. We have realized anew that the interests of many-sided humanity, wherever that humanity is found, are one and indivisible—the great truth which has found wondrous expression in Francis Thompson’s lines:
Near or far,
To each other linked are,
That thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling of a star."
Other truths, long lying below our mind's horizon, are beginning to glimmer in the eastern sky; and ideas, once vague and shapeless, are clothing themselves in form and beauty.
Arthur Hugh Clough, that little-known figure, whom Matthew Arnold has immortalized (if "Thyris" be of the great order and rank with "Lycidas," "Adonais," and "In Memoriam") and whom that great accessor of values. Mr. R. H. Hutton, has designated, "One of the most original men of our age, and perhaps, its most intellectual and buoyant poet," has given us one poem, at least, which has upon it the immortal stamp, and which breathes the spirit of high hope. Its fine climax reaches almost to triumph:
when daylight comes, comes in the light;
In front the sun climbs slow—how slowly!
But Westward, look, the land is bright."
It was a great thing for a man saturated with nineteenth century doubt, who touched "the whole substance of life with questioning finger," to have so far escaped the melancholy of life that such sweet, clear song of hope bubbled up from his heart and flowed out upon the World. It is no less great a thing that we, after wading through deep rivers of disappointment, disillusion, and perplexity, are already looking with expectant eyes to the new day which is approaching on swift and silent feet; but that hope which springs eternal in the breast lures us with the promise that the land, long hidden by thick clouds and baffling mists, will soon be flooded with unhindered light.
That great soldier-saint of God, writing from the gloom of Nero’s prison, but always seeing God’s great shining purpose despite "the distance and the dark," says to his Philippian converts, "I would have you know, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the progress of the Gospel."
And He who sits upon the throne of the world uses human blunderings to hasten the departure of night and the oncoming of glorious day.
The watchers on the hills have seen innumerable indications of the dawn’s approach. Our poets are singing deeper, richer songs. Our statesmen are looking beyond the hour in a spirit of high hope. Those who have the children in their care are confronting their tasks with a zeal re-born. The light is breaking everywhere. Not from the Christian Church alone do the inspiring rays emanate, but from those grest co-operative forces which march side by side with us against the common foe, the wavelets of light appear—harbingers of daybreak when there shall be:
Light to the zenith, light from pole to pole;
Light from the East that waxeth in the West.
Light to the sentient closeness of the breast,
Light to the secret chambers of the brain."