Robert Bridges, ed. (1844–1930). The Spirit of Man: An Anthology. 1916.
THIS book was compiled with a special purpose, and if it should not satisfy those for whom it was intended, no preface can save it; but that does not forbid some words of explanation.First then, the reader is invited to bathe rather than to fish in these waters: that is to say, the several pieces are to be read in context; and it is for this reason that no titles nor names of authors are inserted in the text, because they would distract the attention and lead away the thought and even overrule consideration. Yet, although there is a sequence of context, there is no logical argument: the demonstration is of various moods of mind, which are allowed free play, a sufficient guide to them being provided in the page-headings. As for the sequence chosen, that might no doubt have been other than it is without damage and perhaps with advantage; but, as will readily be perceived, the main implication is essential, namely that spirituality is the basis and foundation of human life—in so far as our life is a worthy subject for ideal philosophy and pure aesthetic—rather than the apex or final attainment of it. It must underlie everything. To put it briefly, man is a spiritual being, and the proper work of his mind is to interpret the world according to his higher nature, and to conquer the material aspects of the world so as to bring them into subjection to the spirit.Explanation of lesser matters is given in the preface to the Index at the end of the book: but it may be well to warn the reader at the outset against one possible misunderstanding; it should not be thought that there is any pretence of having collected together all the best illustrations that literature can provide. The compiler might perhaps congratulate himself if the high standard that he has tried to maintain should provoke such a misconception, but he is well aware that the collection might have been much better. As it is, whatever merit or attractive quality it may have, will lie in its being the work of one mind at one time; and its being such implies the presence of the peculiarities and blemishes that mark any personality and any time: these he has not sought to avoid.The progress of mankind on the path of liberty and humanity has been suddenly arrested and its promise discredited by the apostasy of a great people, who, casting off as a disguise their professions of Honour, now openly avow that the ultimate faith of their hearts is in material force.In the darkness and stress of the storm the signs of the time cannot all be distinctly seen, nor can we read them dispassionately; but two things stand out clearly, and they are above question or debate. The first is that Prussia’s scheme for the destruction of her neighbours was long-laid, and scientifically elaborated to the smallest detail: the second is that she will shrink from no crime that may further its execution.How far the various Teutonic states that have been subjugated by Prussia are infected or morally enslaved by the machinery that overlords them, how far they are deluded or tempted by a vision of world-empire, how far their intellectual teachers willingly connive at the contradictory falsehoods officially imposed upon their assent, and what their social awakening will be, we can only surmise. We had accounted our cousins as honest and virtuous folk; some of us have well-loved friends among them whom we have heard earnestly and bitterly deplore the evil spirit that was dominating their country: but we now see them all united in a wild enthusiasm for the great scheme of tyranny, as unscrupulous in their means as in their motives, and obedient to military regulations for cruelty, terrorism, and devastation.From the consequent miseries, the insensate and interminable slaughter, the hate and filth, we can turn to seek comfort only in the quiet confidence of our souls; and we look instinctively to the seers and poets of mankind, whose sayings are the oracles and prophecies of loveliness and lovingkindness. Common diversions divert us no longer; our habits and thoughts are searched by the glare of the conviction that man’s life is not the ease that a peace-loving generation has found it or thought to make it, but the awful conflict with evil which philosophers and saints have depicted; and it is in their abundant testimony to the good and beautiful that we find support for our faith, and distraction from a grief that is intolerable constantly to face, nay impossible to face without that trust in God which makes all things possible.We may see that our national follies and sins have deserved punishment; and if in this revelation of rottenness we cannot ourselves appear wholly sound, we are still free and true at heart, and can take hope in contrition, and in the brave endurance of sufferings that should chasten our intention and conduct; we can even be grateful for the discipline: but beyond this it is offered us to take joy in the thought that our country is called of God to stand for the truth of man’s hope, and that it has not shrunk from the call. Here we stand upright, and above reproach: and to show ourselves worthy will be more than consolation; for truly it is the hope of man’s great desire, the desire for brotherhood and universal peace to men of good-will, that is at stake in this struggle.Britons have ever fought well for their country, and their country’s Cause is the high Cause of Freedom and Honour. That fairest earthly fame, the fame of Freedom, is inseparable from the names of Albion, Britain, England: it has gone out to America and the Antipodes, hallowing the names of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand; it has found a new home in Africa: and this heritage is our glory and happiness. We can therefore be happy in our sorrows, happy even in the death of our beloved who fall in the fight; for they die nobly, as heroes and saints die, with hearts and hands unstained by hatred or wrong.