And now, my friends, for a good old grumble. You will not, I hope, deny me the privilege, seeing that you have always considered grumbling the prerogative of your race.
I mean to have a doughty passage of arms with your giant machine Progress. It has served you well so far. Its very name is stimulating, inspiring -- anything you like. But I foresee that soon, very soon, with all its high-sounding name and its inspiration, it will become unwieldy like a Titanic steamroller over which you will have lost control.
So long as your wonderful modern inventions, your machinery, your labour-saving devices are your obedient servants you will certainly enjoy a delightful and lazy existence; but as soon as these things become indispensable to you -- that is, so soon as they dominate your life -- they will rob you of your strength, of your manliness and your independence. Progress, the steamroller, will have become the master and you, his slave.
Let me, I pray, make my meaning clear. I have looked about me since the beginning of my visit to you and it strikes me pretty forcibly that the spirit of enterprise and initiative which used in my time to distinguish an Englishman -- or a Scotsman or a Welshman for that matter -- is fast disappearing. Education, you tell me, is spreading and brain power increasing. Faith, yes! that may well be. But what does it profit a man if he gain all the book-learning in the world and lose his power to put that knowledge to such practical use as will benefit his country first and the rest of the world as well? And what does a woman gain, even though she may know the insides of all the books ever printed, if she loses her zest in life, her joy in her home-surroundings, above all if she misses the greatest gift in the world -- the gift of love.
Again you will tell me that in no time since the beginning of things has there been such systematic cultivation of bodily health. Our young athletes of to-day, you say -- both male and female -- would put to shame the gladiators, wrestlers and Amazons of the past. And I am quite ready to admit that. I admit the importance of physical culture, of the camaraderie engendered by games, the better understanding between nations aroused by Olympic contests -- but only as a means to an end.
Tell me now, m'dears, what in itself is the use of hard sinews, of prowess at tennis or football, if tough muscles and keen eyes are not going to benefit anyone else but just yourself? You certainly will feel very well in health, you will stretch your scarcely tired limbs out in front of the fire and think what a demmed fine fellow you are. Your friends will gather round you, chair you after your more signal triumphs, pat you on the back and write columns about you in the newspapers. But in what way has humanity, the great teeming millions of the world, benefited by your winning that bicycle race? What, for a matter of that, did your country gain by it?
Empires, my friends, are doomed to fall as soon as their people become followers and not leaders of men. Initiative and enterprise are the bulwarks of a nation. It is they that built up your Empire -- an Empire on which the sun never sets. Be proud of it, for God's sake. Be proud of it! Do not allow it to rush to its fall while you stand in your thousands watching a football match or an automobile race. Watch these by all means, delight in them, get as excited over them as you like, join in where you can, train your muscles and your bones and your eyes, but with a greater object in view than momentary pleasure.
It was because of this seeking after physical pleasure that the great Roman Empire crumbled and was laid in the dust; it was because of this striving after pleasure only that Spain sank into insignificance; neither of these mighty nations was physically effete; the Roman gladiators were second to none, the Spaniards of the day were unequalled at games with foils or ball. But life was gradually made easy and smooth for all but a very few. Initiative and enterprise were stifled in this scramble after pleasure. It was so much easier to loll about and watch a few playing or fighting than to venture forth as one's ancestors had done over uncharted seas or unknown lands to discover new, enchanted worlds. Nature's mountain heights of success and her chasms of failure were gradually levelled to a smooth, safe, unbroken plain, and the mirage of equality spread its feeble rays around instead of the glorious torch of enterprise.
Above all, m'dears, beware of that false goddess Equality. She is so insidious; her voice is so alluring, it sounds so noble, we may even say so Christian. But beware!
There has never been, there is not, and there never can be such a thing as equality, and every attempt to establish so false an axiom is doomed to tragedy or farce. Nature herself has set her face against it: brains, talent, beauty, imagination, every gift physical and mental she has dealt with a lavish hand to some and parsimoniously to others. And therefore the attempt to equalize these gifts by means of the steamroller of Progress can only result in levelling them down to the lowest faculties of man. A steamroller cannot build up; it can only crush.
During the late War would France have wished her Foch and her Clemenceau to be no more than the equal in talent and initiative to her Jacques Bonhomme? And in Russia shall simple peasant and saintly priest be moulded after the pattern of Stalin the murderer? Yet even Revolution, terrible and dangerous as it is, will do less permanent harm than this cushioned, soft soporific we term Progress. For did not France after her great revolution rise through blood and tears to a glorious resurrection, and who shall say that one day -- soon, perhaps -- Russia will not do the same, while all of you over here in this modern world of yours are letting yourselves go to sleep, lulled into false security by that insidious goddess, Equality and that other fetish, Progress.
Modern progress is fast outgrowing its strength. Equal education for a genius or a dunce, the taxation of the worker so that the idler may loaf, pleasures and entertainments in gaol so that the criminal might have equal opportunities for relaxation as the honest man, these and other factors in the so-called advance of civilization are like a two-edged sword.
Education should be the means of spurring the slow-witted and the unfit; taxes should never be a handicap great enough to impede success. Nevertheless, modern progress sets out to drive her steamroller relentlessly over every individual effort to do a little better than one's neighbour, to achieve or, at any rate, attempt something in life different from other people. It tries to educate the most unfit soldier in life's army into considering himself equal to a Field-Marshal; it penalizes thrift to aid the improvident, helps to foster the selfish feeling that so long as I'm all right the rest of the world can go hang!
By my faith, is not our British Empire strong enough to give a lead to other nations in trying to get this steamroller of progress into control again? Yet even whilst I go wandering through my beloved country I find that the gospel of self and egoism has spread with alarming rapidity since my day. You, my friends, have taken the mirage of equality to be a real and shining light. In your twentieth century, taxes on hard work and thrift have ruthlessly increased, and many of you have resorted to juggling and guile in place of our old policy of outspoken truth. It is time that Britain took charge of her affairs, internal and external, with a stronger, a more firm hand.
In the times of your fathers and grandfathers which you are so fond of deriding, nearly all the great inventions, the great initiatives in the world had their origin in their brains. Great Britain led the way in science, in industry, in commerce, in the management of her Colonies. To-day half the time when something new, something of world utility in science or in pleasure comes to light, it has its origin in America or in Germany, in Czecho-Slovakia, or Timbuctoo. Your fathers and grandfathers led the way to progress. Are you content to follow meekly in the wake of the steamroller? They worked, they slaved, they saved for the glory of their country and your future prosperity. Do you mean to tell me that you will go on sitting still, twiddling your thumbs and waiting for other nations to feed you with a silver spoon?
Wake up, John Bull! Look around you. Don't go lolling along the paths of life which the workers of the world have made smooth for you. Step out boldly as you did in the past on the rough road of high adventure, and keep your steamroller of progress to its job of strengthening -- not merely of smoothing -- the trails which your gallant pioneers blazed for you at cost of their own ease and contentment, often at cost of their lives.
Do you recollect how the hero of a recent an-Arctic expedition, in order not to delay the advance of his comrades when sickness prevented him from keeping in step with them, fell out of line voluntarily and was left to perish alone in the ice? Faith! if you do not wake up there is danger that you will be lost in the drifts of obscurity. But to this falling out there will not be attached the glory of self-sacrifice, for your fame as one of the mightiest Empires the world has ever known will flicker out and die. But the world will roll on just the same.
Your shoulders are broad, friend John Bull, and you have your burden to bear in proportion to your strength. The last few years have seen many changes in the world, shifting of power and of responsibilities, and shirking of tasks. Because of the great traditions built up by your forebears, the world has looked to you more than once to put things right, to take a hand at the guiding helm, to direct the destinies of the world rather than stand by and see the reins taken out of your nerveless hands. Can you do it? Is the spirit of your race dead in you? I say it is not. Your hearts are as brave as they were in ages past, and now as then you scorn fear.
You have a responsibility towards the other weaker nations of the earth, a responsibility which tradition has placed upon you. Do not, in Heaven's name, allow that burden to slip off your shoulders. Remember, that if you do there are other nations ready to pick it up, to take your place in the new scheme of this world, your place in the sun, leaving you in the penumbra of oblivion.
Believe me, there's truth in what I say. Your
fathers and grandfathers spent their brains and their lives freely
for your country's sake. They were never content to see a rival
nation usurp its place as the leader of progress and initiative.
I'll never believe that you in your generation will let her down.