Saturday, April 21.--There is a lull in the progress of the war, in the storm of battle. The pause gives time for thought. Looking back to a month ago, it perhaps may strike us that, in spite of the splendid heroism of our troops and the glorious achievements which not only relieved Kimberley and Ladysmith, but relieved the overwrought tension of our own anxiety, there was just a slight want of proportion and dignity in the way in which the Empire in general, and London in particular, stood on its head, so to speak, with frenzied exultation that the army of Boer farmers had not been able to overwhelm our garrisons. However, it is dangerous work trying to stroke down the British lion when he is rampant, and perhaps he has had sufficient calming in his excitement from the fact that the Boers, who for the moment we thought to be crushed, have come up again smiling both in the Free State and Natal, ready, as it seems, for another round. Natal, which was reported practically clear of the enemy, is still closed to us beyond Elandslaagte, and our friends from Dundee and Newcastle still find themselves a long way from home.
Meanwhile we have serious food for reflection in the very plain speaking of Lord Roberts's despatches. They seem to indicate that the victory was dearly bought--that it was much more expensive in human life through defects of generalship than it ought to have been. And a high authority tells me that even the last fighting before we reached Ladysmith was not altogether free from the defects which have been pointed out in the case of Spion Kop and Vaal Kranz: "We finished up with a very hot fortnight, fighting on some days, and being sniped and shelled on all and on several nights. Our losses were very severe, over 2,100 in all, many I fear uselessly sacrificed. On the last day the battalions and brigades had got hopelessly mixed up, but all did their share of fighting and endurance." However, in one way the error of former battles was rectified: "Our success on that day was mainly due to our being able to fight on a really wide front, and although we lost a good few, the victory was cheaply won." It was the want of that wide front that was the cause of disaster at Spion Kop: "Half our troops hardly fired a shot, and the remainder were too crowded, and, being huddled up on a narrow front, were terribly punished, chiefly by shell fire." In striking contrast to the defects of generalship was the heroic conduct of the battalions--officers and men. I believe that the ascent of the sugar loaf point of Spion Kop by the 60th Rifles was one of the finest things in the whole war, and the Scottish Rifles performed much the same feat a little further along the ridge.
Our exultation is a little qualified also by the sad deaths which have taken place since the relief of Ladysmith. That poor Colonel Royston should so splendidly have survived the siege and won the praise of all the generals, only to pass away from us at the moment when we were looking forward to receiving him back in triumph, has cast a gloom over our sunny prospect. And his is by no means the only case in which the relief has had as sad a side as the siege itself.
The pause gives us time not only for reflection on the past, but also for consideration of the future. During my absence at the Cape I have been missing the Natal papers, but echoes reached us there of furious cries for vengeance on rebels. No doubt magnanimity has got a bad name among us because it has been associated in the past with weakness. We are all resolved that there shall be weakness no more, but I hope we are all equally resolved that as i Englishmen and citizens of a world-wide Empire we cannot ever consent to put aside magnanimity. Magnanimous we must continue to be--magnanimous with a magnanimity which refuses to let justice ever degenerate into revenge, magnanimous with a magnanimity which gives an absolutely fair and calm hearing to all, and distinguishes absolutely between the guilty and the innocent. Where there is clear proof of treason, or of wanton looting of neighbours' houses, there must be punishment for the sake of all--the innocent as well as the guilty. And for the sake of the peace of the world the British flag must fly over all this distracted country, that it may be distracted no more. But government is a failure unless it secures the goodwill of the governed. Mere coercion, mere suppression, is not government in the true sense. Government means the securing by authority of the conditions which shall give freest play to all that is good in the governed--that shall enlist on its side the interests, the goodwill, the loyalty, and devotion, and love of its subject. All this may, alas, through human passions, be a long way off, but nothing less than this must be our ideal, and nothing but a high and magnanimous spirit will ever make that ideal attainable. And this we owe to those who have so grandly laid down their lives in England's cause--in the cause of all that is good and noble. Do we think--can we suppose--that we shall honour our dead by a blind vindictiveness and clamour for revenge? They gave their lives to secure a just and lasting peace. We wrong the great spirit of their sacrifice when we give the rein to a spirit of vindictiveness. Our debt to them is to retain, to carry on, to make fruitful the spirit of self-sacrifice which they have offered on the altar of their country. It is this sacrifice which alone is fruitful. It is this which alone justifies empire. It is the readiness to bear the burden--not to be ministered unto, but to minister. It is from the supreme sacrifice that all power and claim to empire is derived. It is only He who died who can say, "All power is given to Me--therefore go ye into all the world."
I see Lord Roberts is accused in some quarters of excess of magnanimity in his proclamations. He who has given his own son, who, if any, might claim the utmost penalty from the conquered, has earned the right to be magnanimous.
Before I left Cape Town I had a. very interesting and kind letter from Sir George White. Much of it was of a private nature; but I may quote the kind words he uses of our good Archdeacon Barker, who has won golden opinions from all for his conduct and example throughout the siege. Sir George White says: "I should like to say a word to you on behalf of your Archdeacon at Ladysmith. All through the siege, he, his wife and family, maintained the dignity of his office and his bearing as a brave English gentleman."
I have also received a very kind letter from Lord Roberts. I sent him a first copy of the circular we have had printed appealing for funds to complete the Garrison Church at Fort Napier by the addition of chancel and tower as a memorial of those who have fallen in this war. Lord Roberts writes: "I have telegraphed a reply to your letter of the 16th inst. to your address at Pietermaritzburg, to say that it will afford me great pleasure to have my name entered as a patron for the scheme for enlarging the Garrison Church at Pietermaritzburg. I inclose a cheque for £100, which kindly enter as follows: from myself, £50--Lady Roberts, £25--each of my two daughters, £12 tos. I trust that your appeal will be generously responded to."
I have spoken in my Diaries of the outward aspect of the war. I would add a word or two on its inner lessons. I am constantly being appealed to to put forth utterances upon the moral lessons of the war, or upon the duties which it suggests, or I am asked to call for general repentance and humiliation under the chastening hand of God, or to appoint a day for special fasting and prayer. I gladly welcome all these suggestions, and I hail with thankfulness the signs they furnish that the war does make people think, and does teach lessons of the Divine side of life. At the same time these appeals suggest to me other reflections. There is, for instance, something wrong in the thought that God has now intervened, has now begun to deal with us, or that we are called on to humble ourselves as we should not have been if we had been uniformly successful, or that our reverses are a sign of God's anger. Those who are learning to walk with God in all the daily walks of life, those who regard the whole world and and all its history as the outward manifestation of the Divine; those who believe that through all the details of commonest life, as well as-through the great events of kingdoms, "one increasing purpose runs," will not fall into the mistake of thinking that God's Hand is to be discerned alone in the momentous and the startling. They will know that He calls to repentance and to awakening, not merely by the exceptional and the awful, but by the common and the diurnal, and the beneficent, by making "His sun to rise on the evil and the good," and sending "rain on the just and on the unjust." They will remember that lesson to the prophet of old--"And behold the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire, a still small voice."
It is not then that God is more present with us now than before, or that he is speaking to us now as he was not in the days of peace, or that there was less need then to pray "in all time of our wealth "than now "in all time of our tribulation," or "in the hour of death," "Good Lord, deliver us."
But none the less He who used the earthquake to bring the Philippian jailor to his knees, and to wring from him the cry "What must I do to be saved?" may still use the cannon's roar, or the unlooked-for disaster to startle the thoughtless to thought, or the worldly to alertness of soul.
And if this has already been the result we can but thank God for it, and try our utmost to follow up the lesson learnt in fear and anguish, by pointing to Him Who at all times is "not far from any one of us, for in Him we live and move, and have our being," and without Whom "not a sparrow falls to the ground."
In this sense we may well believe that God has been accomplishing a great purpose by this lesson of war with which He is closing for us the nineteenth century. But the lessons I seem to learn are not merely those which impress some people, viz., that England is so worldly and so given up to money and ease that we need the chastening of defeat, but also that England's heart is still so far true that it only needs a special call to make men show--to themselves as well as to others--how little wealth and ease weigh in the balance of their estimate of the things worth living for and worth dying for.
The only reason then why I a little hesitate to make some one supreme effort of humiliation, or to set aside some one day, is, lest we should silence the anxiety of our hearts, which is so wholesome, by such a single act of devotion, and repent while the shadow of reverse is upon us only to go back lighthearted to the old thoughtlessness when the sun of prosperity shines again. What I would rather set before us all is the aim and the prayer that the vision of a higher, sterner life, of a grander self-sacrifice, or a more perpetual bearing of the burden of duty and responsibility as members of a great Empire, called to work and not to play, to suffer, not to enjoy, may remain with us as a permanent possession in the sunshine, when God brings it back, as it has assuredly been with us in the dark night of our suspense.
The man who gazes at that vision most wistfully, and presses towards it most ardently, will be the first to feel how much need there is for humiliation and repentance, how far we have been in the past from God's
An humble and a contrite heart; "
how often we have failed to bear patiently and devotedly the "white man's burden," how lightly our vast responsibility to the more backward races has sat upon us, how we have lagged behind in the steep ascent of Duty: but he will not so misread the central lesson of Christianity, the lesson of the Cross of Calvary, as to think that apparent failure is a sign of God's anger, or that wounds and death are necessarily punishments. He will hail the bracing air of adversity, happy that he can
"Be crossed and thwarted as a man,
Not left in God's contempt apart,
With ghastly, smooth life, dead at heart,
Tame in Earth's paddock as her prize."
A. H. NATAL.
BISHOP'S HOUSE, MARITZBURG, March, 1900.