I have just come across a vastly intriguing little statement--no less than this: that scientists who know how to estimate these things have stated that there are nearly twice as many people living in the world to-day as there were a hundred years ago. And that, surely, means that the chances of adventure and excitement are nearly twice what they were in my day. For every man, woman and child in the world may be the possible centre of romance for you. Each may be a good friend or a bitter enemy, or may give you an opportunity for a generous action, for the saving of a life or the better shaping of a character.
And meanwhile you grumble because, in this age of mechanical supply, coloured portions of thrilling life are not served up to you with your breakfast coffee or trundled along in a little barrow and left at your back door while you are busy adjusting your tie and choosing a handkerchief to match your shirt. Can you wonder that I am filled with amazement?
For you have the right spirit in you still. Everywhere I wander I see a sneaking admiration for the villain in plays, films or books, and even for the clever scoundrels of real life. And I know the cause of this sneaking admiration. It is because the villain or the cinema vamp, unlike so many of the timid productions of modernity, has chosen to break through those bonds of convention, which most of you wear so patiently and so persistently that they have hardened into massive and unbreakable chains.
Free of these bonds, those others--whom we term villains and vamps--have jumped out of life's rut with almost ludicrous ease; they have taken their chance, they have filled their lungs with the intoxicating air of adventure and when luck turned against them they paid the penalty with a certain glamorous courage.
I don't mean by that, bless you, that it is a fine thing to be a villain or a scoundrel. Between ourselves, such rascals are usually demmed unpleasant and dirty. But what I do mean is that this twentieth century of yours sadly needs waking up from its lethargic sleep, and its people made to breathe again, to stretch and to live. Yes, live! not as puppets, but as men and women ready to grasp at the opportunities offered to them by fate--opportunities of fame, of fortune and adventure.
A legend was told me once, my friends, by a Hungarian lady whom I had the honour to escort out of France under teh very long nose of my friend Chauvelin in the roistering days when he and his like were turning that beautiful country into shambles. This quaint little legend had its origin among the Hungarian gipsies, who vow that Fortune is a bald-headed old dame with but a single hair on her head. She flits to and fro, they declare, in and about the atmosphere where human beings dwell. But only once or at most twice does she pass close enough to any one person to allow him or her to grasp her by her single hair and to hold her till success is achieved.
That legend may seem somewhat unchivalrous, but there's common sense in it none the less. For the goddess Fortune, capricious like all her distracting sex, chooses to come within our reach at odd, unexpected moments, when perhaps we happen to be afraid or uncertain, or merely looking the other way. A stare, a doubt, a fumble, and the chance is gone. Others get there first, seize in turn that solitary hair and hold on till fame and fortune come to them instead of to us, and in an access of self-pity we are left to envy the more fortunate!
The only way, believe me, m'dears, to eliminate that chance--or rather loss of chance--is to live all the time dangerously and fully. You must, all of you, young and old, make up your minds to spurn the weak, shuffling, apologetic murmur of 'Safety first'. Do you think for one moment that your vast Empire could have thrown its boundaries beyond the setting sun if your pioneer ancestors had used that slogan as their watchword?
I see too much anxiety in the world of to-day on the part of parents to find sons nice safe places in banks and offices and drapers' shops, and daughters jobs behind counters and on office stools. There must needs be clerks and secretaries, of course, and men who say 'Modom' and girls who say nothing at all that's worth recording. But, in the name of all that you have held great and dear and noble in the past, do not try to mould all your children after that one pattern!
All over the world to-day fathers and mothers sit anxiously planning careers for their offspring. Maybe the youngsters want to be artists or soldiers or engineers. But, says mother or father, art is 'hardly respectable' (though it is lauded up to the skies if it achieves fame!); soldiers, they argue, have to sleep out under nasty wet canvas; and engineering is such a dirty job. So the unhappy child, instead of turning dreams into great realities, is sent to Mr. Blobb's office stool for a life sentence.
It is really neither clever nor effective to sneer at the more dangerous walks of life. They may be risky or dirty, but hands can get dirtier and risk can be greater in many an office than in barracks or engineering shops. The safe, dull professions are overcrowded--filled to overflowing with smooth, little, purring people who are content and happy in their guarded lives. Meanwhile the world calls aloud for real men and real women who are fearless enough to leave the beaten track and to strike out on their own, even though their daring venture be made in the heart of a crowded city. It is the stout heart, m'dears, that matters, not the place where destiny has set you or the manner of task to which you have been called.
England is still the land of Drake, or Raleigh,
of Nelson and a hundred other heroes and leaders of men. The
spirit of progress still lives in her, the high endeavour, the
love of adventure! Do not, in Heaven's name, allow these noble
attributes of your glorious nation to be smothered beneath the
pall of a deadening lethargy.