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ATRIOTISM, like beauty and goodness, is one of those things that we can never rigidly define,
because though every one has some rough notion
of its meaning, we doubt if any one has ever yet grasped its full meaning. We may, provisionally, describe it as the love that a man bears for his country, but this is to fly from one difficulty into two, for love is as infinite as God, and as for country, it is not always easy to tell the point at which patriotism begins and treason ends. We may not deny the title of patriot to men so various as Shakespeare and Addison, Cromwell and Nelson, Chatham and Castlereagh. But what shall we say of less obvious cases, of Walpole, of Charles James Fox, of John Bright? Can an Englishman be a patriot who prays for the defeat of our arms, like the youthful Lake Poets; or when he is receiving the pay of the foreigner, like Algernon Sidney; or when he is ready to back his domestic policy by foreign invasion, like the leaders of our Whig Revolution? These are cases of infinite delicacy, and not to be compassed by any definition.
But to speak of patriotism as the love of a man for his country, has at least the advantage of separating it into its two main elements of an emotion, the purest of which our nature is capable, and its object, which next to God,
is the utmost to which it can aspire. For patriotism is but the highest form of love for a created person, and he that would be a patriot must thus think of his country. Nor is this any figure of rhetoric, for the personality of the state is approved not only by the devotion of multitudes, but by the judgment of philosophers; it was as familiar to Plato as it was to Burke, that the nation to which we belong is not the sum of its living citizens, but includes the living and the dead and those who are yet to be.
The successive generations are but the trustees of a common heritage. Even in such a prosaic sphere as that of finance we do homage to this essential continuity, we pay for the policies of Lord North and William Pitt as for our own. We are as much the countrymen of the Lord Protector as of any living premier. It might appal the most cynical of politicians to reflect by what a cloud of witnesses his every action is surrounded. Should he betray his trust, at the bidding, it may be, of the most overwhelming majority, it is not to his contemporaries alone that he must render account. The voice of Chatham will plead against him from the skies, the blood of Harold will cry out upon him from the ground. The fixed and unquestioning recognition of this, our country's personality, that life compact of numberless other lives, is the first and great commandment of patriotism.
The history of mankind is one long commentary upon its fulfilment. It is the kernel of truth embedded within many a system of mythology. With few exceptions, we find that wherever men have been gathered together, some effort has been made to register the fact that a nation, or tribe,
does not consist only of its living members. The most important expression of this fact is ancestor-worship. The savage who believes that the ancestors and heroes of his tribe have still an interest in its fortunes, and still demand their meed of reverence and sacrifice, is a wiser man than the rationalist who says that the dead are extinct and done with, and that we are only concerned with the interests of the living. Moreover, loyalty to a man gradually transfers itself to the community. Even as regards the living, it is often curiously impersonal. There are cases in which the chief, as head of the tribe, is hedged about with such divinity, that it is death to touch him, even to save his life.
The dawning civilization of Athens, an empire made perfect in beauty, is inspired with the consciousness, rising into ecstasy, of her own living and adorable reality. The words of Pericles, as reported by Thucydides, whether they were actually spoken or not, show what the Athenian ideal was at its best. "I will speak first of our ancestors, for it is right and becoming that now, when we are lamenting for the dead, a tribute should be paid to their memory. There was never a time when they did not inhabit this land, which, by their valour, they have handed down from generation to generation, and we have received from them a free state. . . . I would have you day by day fix your eyes upon the greatness of Athens, until you become filled with the love of her; and when you are impressed by this spectacle of her glory, reflect that this empire has been acquired by men who knew their duty and had the courage to do it, who in the hour of conflict had the fear of dishonour always present to them,
and who, if they ever failed in an enterprise, would not allow their virtue to be lost to their country, but freely gave their lives to her as the fairest offering which they could present at her feet.” *
The sense of beauty that was the very essence of the Athenian ideal, was bound up with the sense of civic personality to an extent of which we can hardly conceive. We cannot read the contest of Eschylus and Euripides in the "Frogs," without realizing that the artist was as responsible a public personage as the commander of an army. And an extension of this principle over philosophy renders explicable the attitude of his judges towards Socrates. The fact of his being a philosopher and a good man could not atone for the suspicion that he was weakening the old faith, and thereby tending to weaken the state. When Aristophanes represented him as sitting in a basket, suspended in mid-air, he was putting the most deadly point of the case against him, by suggesting that he had ceased to have part or lot in the national life, and that he was drawing others after him. It was expedient that one man should die for the people, a point of view which, to judge by the evidence of the Crito, was, in the abstract, that of Socrates himself.
In the brief sunshine of Athenian power, the cult of beauty, whether it finds voice in the drama, or in prose, or in marble, or in life itself, is but the cult of one divine and beloved mother, who includes and transfigures all her children. And yet there is an element of brittleness in their love, which accounts for the too brief continuance of that life and that glory. The very perfection of Athenian • * Jowett's Translation.
art in what it set itself to accomplish, must not blind us to its limitations. It displayed an increasing tendency to exalt the reason above the soul. It shunned the mysterious, the supernatural, whatever did not lend itself to clear-cut outline and exact definition. Its deities were very beautiful, but they ceased to be divine. It is to the memory of the dead, and not to their abiding spirits, that Pericles pays his tribute of honour. Too surely has a modern critic detected the rationalist element in Euripides which, like the Socratic philosophy, was dissolving in criticism the grander faith of Eschylus. Not the arms of Sparta, but the instability, the faithlessness of the Athenians to their own ideal, left defenceless the fleet at Ægospotami, and brought to the ground the walls of Themistocles.
In the case of Rome, the conception of a common personality is worked out in a way befitting the conqueror of the world. We have first the legend of her divine origin, and the sense of her being in continual touch with the gods, expressed by the oracles and Sibylline books. Again, the worship of the dead was the bond of social life, and when the epic of Rome came to be written, the highest term of praise that could be accorded to her goddess-born ancestor was "pious," a virtue which impelled him to carry away from blazing Troy, not only his little boy and old father, but also the household gods. Yet the blood tie was not enough, by itself, for the needs of an expanding people, and thus it was that the Romans, without departing from their ancient forms, made them elastic by admitting the fiction of adoption. Upon such foundations was built up the civic patriotism whose spirit has been crystallized