Progress has slipped a cog. It has got ahead of you humans who are supposed to regulate its advance. During the Great War, when your backs were turned and you were attending for your lives to your own business, it took a demmed sharp advantage of you all, so much so that now, egad, you seem hardly to know where you are!
You seem suddenly to have awakened to find yourselves in the midst of an age which is not meant for you and is not altogether suited to your mentality.
This age is one or realism, rationalism, a cold-blooded, hard-headed, calculating age, and it has given your sentimental complacency a severe jolt.
Those of you who wish to be thought up-to-date at any cost have shortened your hair, you have readjusted your moral values so as to give your conscience more elasticity, you have thrown your religion overboard and assumed an attitude of cynicism and unbelief.
Your extremists, on the other hand--your early Victorians and 'dash-it-sir-things-weren't-like-this-when-I-was-a-boy' kind of men--have come to a sort of mental halt on small islands of age-old and rapidly disappearing sand and ordering the waves of progress to roll away out of their sight.
Meanwhile between these two extremes there is the rest of humanity--a crowding mass of ordinary, everyday folk, men and women who do their best to hide their romantic ideals, their feelings and emotions under a cloak of articiality, whilst waging their humble battle of life in an era which they cannot understand and in which they find neither sympathy nor comradeship.
Faith! the trouble some of you take to conceal what you think is your weakness, but which, in point of fact, is the essence of beauty in your nature, the hall-mark of a noble soul. But just now you are bewildered, you have been swept off your feet; you have lived through those four awful years when you saw every ideal, every gentle impulse, every sense of love and charity sacrificed to the needs of that terrible War. Your sense of security and of peace was suddenly seized upon by forces over which you had no control, and hurled into the seething cauldron of a Titanic conflict wherein the demons of hatred, of distrust and of terror stirred their witches' brew.
You had suddenly lost your anchorage. The struggle for bare existence, for keeping some measure of sanity in the midst of so much horror, compelled you to wake from your dreams of tranquility and to plunge into the nightmare of reality.
As a result you have lost the years of transition. The time between 1914 and 1933, instead of gliding gently along its normal course, was one in which everything was artificially speeded up. The pace of living was increased an hundredfold.
In the ordinary course of events your children would have graduated to it just as you graduated from penny-farthing bicycles to your cars and your aeroplanes. But human beings have only a limited capacity for adapting themselves to new modes of life, and you have been asked to live through so many changes that you have become like a piece of elastic that has been overstretched. And you naturally feel puzzled and not a little uneasy. You are trying to be sympathetic and to understand things that shock or astonish you; you are, in fact, straining every nerve to appear hard-headed before the world, cold-blooded and what is known as modern. You have donned an armour of indifference and scepticism because civilization has run ahead of you, and you are afraid to show your true self to the world because it might scoff at the romantic ideals which you treasure in your heart.
Your pitiless psycho-analysts, who jeer at human virtue or weaknesses, would probably say that you had a superstition-complex, or a sex-complex, or some other mental ailment with a high-sounding name; but you, with all your old-fashioned beliefs, know well enough that the only complaints you suffer from are idealism, romance, love, or some silly prehistoric things like that, and you remark with a sigh of longing that the old dresses must have been very charming, or how thrilling it would have been to meet a highwayman.
What you really mean is that coquettish glances from under a coal-scuttle bonnet must have been very alluring, and that it must have been very thrilling to meet men who clung to the axiom that chivalry and courtesy are a necessary part of any gentleman's code of honour.
I could wish that you had the courage, my friends, to assert boldly with me that chivalry and love and laughter are still extant to-day; you know that they are; then why not proclaim it to the rest of this disillusioned world? You have felt their existence, have you not? Say on a warm summer's evening away from the bustle and noise of cities, with the right man or woman beside you? You have felt the thrill of romance then, I'll wager, so why not own to it? But all your life you have been taught that romanticism is a weakness of which you should be ashamed; so lest your neighbours suspect you of it you adjourn to the nearest American Bar, swallow an unpleasant-tasting cocktail and do your best with a forced jest or cynical remark to dispel such an illusion.
And all the while in your innermost soul you know that you cannot get rid of that persistent streak of romance which may not belong to the age in which you live, but is nevertheless a characteristic of your face.
Have you ever watched the faces of guests at one of your fashionable weddings? Serious men of business who have stolen an hour from the daily battle of life and fortune come to the ceremony in order to bestow a friendly smile and a wish for happiness on their friend; women with faces lined by age, to whom marriage has perhaps meant disillusionment, look almost beautiful when, with moist eyes and quivering lips, they murmur a silent blessing on the bride as she goes by and a beautiful prayer that she may find in her life the romance and the love which luckless fate had denied to them.
Or have you modern cynics ever watched a suburban gardener bending his back to the task of transforming his tiny plot of ground from what was a builder's scrap-heap into a small paradise filled with blossoms and flowering shrubs, a nesting-place for birds, an ideal spot where he can sit and smoke his pipe and contemplate the work of his hands?
Have you watched the street-hawker, whose bellowing voice has often grated on your sensitive ear, stoop with a smile to a small child who is afraid, to cross the road? Have you ever paused in your walk in order to see him take the child gently by the arm and guide it safely through the traffic? Then have you watched his face--almost ashamed of the emotion that prompted this kind action--while the child, after the manner of young things, heedlessly runs away?
Now let me advise you to look out for these small incidents which occur every day in the crowded streets of your great cities, and I'll warrant that you will think as I do, that progress and rationalism have not yet succeeded in eradicating from the heart of your nation all traces of romance and of kindly, unselfish, foolish friendliness. You of your generation may try to deny it, but I know better. I know that in spite of your blasé, cynical attitude, you still treasure deep down in your hearts the true romanticism that is so essentially British--firm friendships, love that is as faithful as it is ardent, and with it all a light bon-homie, the laughter that will conceal a tear.
Romance may be foolish and out-of-date, but without it life would be like a rose without its fragrance, like an evening sky robbed of its stars. You who have it in your hearts be no longer ashamed of it. I don't say that you want to wear every emotion on your sleeve, but in Heaven's name do not allow modern cynicism to harden your hearts against romance, which is the very savour of existence--the one thing that makes men of you instead of unfeeling robots.