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the public peace


It was little more than eighty years since the Iron Duke had described the British Constitution as an incomparably devised perfection which none but a madman would seek to change. That was not now the creed of any political party or indeed of any thinking man. No one was satisfied with things as they were. Many of the most respectable old phrases had become known for empty husks, out of which long since had dropped whatever seed they may originally have contained. Many of the old traditions were dead or sickly, and their former adherents were now wandering at large, like soldiers in the middle ages, when armies were disbanded in foreign parts, seeking a new allegiance, and constituting in the meanwhile a danger to security and  .

And also, within this brief period, the highest offices had become vacant, and many great figures had passed from the scene. Two sovereigns had died full of honour. Two Prime Ministers had also died, having first put off the burden of office, each at the zenith of his popularity. Of the two famous men upon the unionist side who remained when Lord Salisbury tendered his resignation, the one since 1906 had been wholly withdrawn from public life, {190} while the other, four years later, had passed the leadership into younger hands.[10]

There is room for an almost infinite variety of estimate as to the influence which is exercised by pre-eminent characters upon public affairs and national ideals. The verdict of the day after is always different from that of a year after. The verdict of the next generation, while differing from both, is apt to be markedly different from that of the generation which follows it. The admiration or censure of the moment is followed by a reaction no less surely than the reaction itself is followed by a counter-reaction. Gradually the oscillations become shorter, as matters pass out of the hands of journalists and politicians into those of the historian. Possibly later judgments are more true. We have more knowledge, of a kind. Seals are broken one by one, and we learn how this man really thought and how the other acted, in both cases differently from what had been supposed.

We have new facts submitted to us, and possibly come nearer the truth. But while we gain so much, we also lose in other directions. We lose the sharp savour of the air. The keen glance and alert curiosity of contemporary vigilance are lacking. Conditions and circumstances are no longer clear, and as generation after generation passes away they become more dim. The narratives of the great historians and novelists are to a large extent either faded or false. We do not trust the most vivid presentments written by the man of genius in his study a century after the event, while we know well that even the shrewdest of contemporaneous observers is certain to omit many {191} of the essentials. If Macaulay is inadequate in one direction, Pepys is equally inadequate in another. And if the chronicler at the moment, and the historian in the future are not to be wholly believed, the writer who comments after a decade or less upon things which are fresh in his memory is liable to another form of error; for either he is swept away by the full current of the reaction, or else his judgments are embittered by a sense of the hopelessness of swimming against it.

Publicerat klockan 04:52, den 6 juni 2017
Postat i kategorin Okategoriserat
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