Page:Essays and phantasies by James Thomson.djvu/211

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199
OPEN SECRET SOCIETIES

most dazzling lightning of ecstasy leaps from the blackest storm of danger. But neither he who writes nor he who reads is any nearer to the heart of the mystery through this interpretation: if he is of the brotherhood his pulse beat in unison with the throbs of this heart before; if he is not of the brotherhood his pulse will never beat in unison with these throbs, save at intervals and for moments similar to those in which the hands of a clock that does not go accurately may agree with the hands of another which is keeping true time.

The ingenious parodies of this natural Society of the Heroes are the armies of the nations, those elaborate artificial organisations or aggregations whose spirit and tradition are popularly supposed to be heroism. Yet any one who is acquainted with an army or with portions of an army has learned that genuine heroes are nearly as rare in the military as in any other trade. The battle blood-drunkenness and Schwärmerei of congregated thousands by no means imply true heroism. I have known pretty well some of the men who rode and rode well in the Balaclava Light Cavalry Charge; some brave fellows, and some good fellows not specially brave; but I do not remember a hero amongst them.[1] How many soldiers cringe to their officers, how

  1. One of the most miserable humbugs of these years is the humbug of certain popular writers (the two Kingsleys, Tennyson, Tom Brown, Guy Livingstone, together with a solemn swarm of female novelists) anent the Crimean War. It has been a perfect godsend of profitable and blasphemous cant to them. That war was by no means heroic— a mere selfish haggle for the adjustment of the balance of power, badly begun and meanly finished; and five soldiers out of six who took part in it will tell you that they would much rather have pitched into the Turks than the Russians. Yet these pious scribes (for most of them are extra-earnest Christians, notable brawlers for the Gospel of Peace) invoke God and the seven heavens to attest its heroic sanctity.

    Again, was English manhood really in so rotten a state ten years ago that these people are justified in soaring into ecstasies of admiration because an English army with its officers did not act like a drove of cowards (though in many instances exceedingly like a set of fools) during a rather severe and