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Chapter 34

SERMON XXXIV. NATIONAL SORROWS AND NATIONAL LESSONS

On the illness or the Prince of Wales.

Chapel Royal, St James's, December 17th, 1871.

2 Sam. xix. 14. "He bowed the heart of all the men of Judah, even as the heart of one man."


No circumstances can be more different, thank God, than those under which the heart of the men of Judah was bowed when their king commander appealed to them, and those which have, in the last few days, bowed the heart of this nation as the heart of one man. But the feeling called out in each case was the same--Loyalty, spontaneous, contagious, some would say unreasoning: but it may be all the deeper and nobler, because for once it did not wait to reason, but was content to be human, and to feel.

If those men who have been so heartily loyal of late--respectable, business-like, manful persons, of a race in nowise given to sentimental excitement--had been asked the cause of the intense feeling which they have shown during the last few days, they would probably, most of them, find some difficulty in giving it. Many would talk frankly of their dread lest business should be interfered with; and no shame to them, if they live by business. Others would speak of possible political complications; and certainly no blame to them for dreading such. But they would most of them speak, as frankly, of a deeper and less selfish emotion. They would speak, not eloquently it may be, but earnestly, of sympathy with a mother and a wife; of sympathy with youth and health fighting untimely with disease and death--they would plead their common humanity, and not be ashamed to have yielded to that touch of nature, which makes the whole world kin. And that would be altogether to their honour. Honourably and gracefully has that sympathy showed itself in these realms of late. It has proved that in spite of all our covetousness, all our luxury, all our frivolity, we are not cynics yet, nor likely, thanks be to Almighty God, to become cynics; that however encrusted and cankered with the cares and riches of this world, and bringing, alas, very little fruit to perfection, the old British oak is sound at the root--still human, still humane.

But there is, I believe, another and an almost deeper reason for the strong emotion which has possessed these men; one most intimately bound up with our national life, national unity, national history; one which they can hardly express to themselves; one which some of them are half ashamed to express, because they cannot render a reason for it; but which is still there, deeply rooted in their souls; one of those old hereditary instincts by which the histories of whole nations, whole races, are guided, often half-unconsciously, and almost in spite of themselves; and that is Loyalty, pure and simple Loyalty--the attachment to some royal race, whom they conceived to be set over them by God. An attachment, mark it well, founded not on their own will, but on grounds very complex, and quite independent of them; an attachment which they did not make, but found; an attachment which their forefathers had transmitted to them, and which they must transmit to their children as a national inheritance,--at once a symbol of and a support to the national unity of the whole people, running back to the time when, in dim and mythic ages, it emerged into the light of history as a wandering tribe. This instinct, as a historic fact, has been strong in all the progressive European nations; especially strong in the Teutonic; in none more than in the English and the Scotch. It has helped to put them in the forefront of the nations. It has been a rallying point for all their highest national instincts. Their Sovereign was to them the divinely appointed symbol of the unity of their country. In defending him, they defended it. It did not interfere, that instinct of loyalty, with their mature manhood, freedom, independence. They knew that if royalty were indeed God's ordinance, it had its duties as well as its rights. And when their kings broke the law, they changed their kings. But a king they must have, for their own sakes; not merely for the sake of the nation's security and peace, but for the sake of their own self-respect. They felt, those old forefathers of ours, that loyalty was not a degrading, but an ennobling influence; that a free man can give up his independence without losing it; that--as the example of that mighty German army has just shown an astounded world--independence is never more called out than by subordination; and that a free man never feels himself so free as when obeying those whom the laws of his country have set over him; an able man never feels himself so able as when he is following the lead of an abler man than himself. And what if, as needs must happen at whiles, the sovereign were not a man, but a woman or a child? Then was added to loyalty in the hearts of our forefathers, and of many another nation in Europe, an instinct even deeper, and tenderer, and more unselfish--the instinct of chivalry; and the widowed queen, or the prince, became to them a precious jewel committed to their charge by the will of their forefathers and the providence of God; an heirloom for which they were responsible to God, and to their forefathers, and to their children after them, lest their names should be stained to all future generations by the crime of baseness toward the weak.

This was the instinct of the old Teutonic races. They were often unfaithful to it--as all men are to their higher instincts; and fulfilled it very imperfectly--as all men fulfil their duties. But it was there-- in their heart of hearts. It helped to make them; and, therefore, it helped to make us. It ennobled them; it called out in them the sense of unity, order, discipline, and a lofty and unselfish affection. And I thank God, as an Englishman, for any event, however exquisitely painful, which may call out those true graces in us, their descendants. And, therefore, my good friends, if any cynic shall sneer, as he may, after the present danger is past, at this sudden outburst of loyalty, and speak of it as unreasoning and childish, answer not him. "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you." But answer yourselves, and answer too your children, when they ask you what has moved you thus--answer, I say, not childishly, but childlike: "We have gone back, for a moment at least, to England's childhood--to the mood of England when she was still young. And we are showing thereby that we are not yet decayed into old age. That if we be men, and not still children, yet the child is father to the man; and the child's heart still beats underneath all the sins and all the cares and all the greeds of our manhood."

More than one foreign nation is looking on in wonder and in envy at that sight. God grant that they may understand all that it means. God grant that they may understand of how wide and deep an application is the great law, "Except ye be converted," changed, and turned round utterly, "and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." God grant that they may recover the childlike heart, and replace with it that childish heart which pulls to pieces at its own irreverent fancy the most ancient and sacred institutions, to build up ever fresh baby-houses out of the fragments, as a child does with its broken toys.

Therefore, my friends, be not ashamed to have felt acutely. Be not ashamed to feel acutely still, till all danger is past, or even long after all danger is past; when you look back on what might have been, and what it might have brought, ay, must have brought, if not to you, still to your children after you. For so you will show yourselves worthy descendants of your forefathers: so you will show yourselves worthy citizens of this British empire. So you will show yourselves, as I believe, worthy Christian men and women. For Christ, the King of kings and subjects, sends all sorrow, to make us feel acutely. We do not, the great majority of us, feel enough. Our hearts are dull and hard and light, God forgive us; and we forget continually what an earnest, awful world we live in--a whole eternity waiting for us to be born, and a whole eternity waiting to see what we shall do now we are born. Yes; our hearts are dull and hard and light; and, therefore, Christ sends suffering on us to teach us what we always gladly forget in comfort and prosperity--what an awful capacity of suffering we have; and more, what an awful capacity of suffering our fellow-creatures have likewise. We sit at ease too often in a fool's paradise, till God awakens us and tortures us into pity for the torture of others. And so, if we will not acknowledge our brotherhood by any other teaching, He knits us together by the brotherhood of common suffering.

But if God thus sends sorrow to ennoble us, to call out in us pity, sympathy, unselfishness, most surely does He send for that end such a sorrow as this, which touches in all alike every source of pity, of sympathy, of unselfishness at once. Surely He meant to bow our hearts as the heart of one man; and He has, I trust and hope, done that which He meant to do. God grant that the effect may be permanent. God grant that it may call out in us all an abiding loyalty. God grant that it may fill us with some of that charity which bears all things, hopes all things, believes all things, which rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; and make us thrust aside henceforth, in dignified disgust, the cynic and the slanderer, the ribald and the rebel.

But more. God grant that the very sight of the calamity with which we have stood face to face, may call out in us some valiant practical resolve, which may benefit this whole nation, and bow all hearts as the heart of one man, to do some one right thing. And what right thing? What but the thing which is pointed to by plain and terrible fact, as the lesson which God must mean us to learn, if He means us to learn any, from what has so nearly befallen? Let our hearts be bowed as the heart of one man, to say--that so far as we have power, so help us God, no man, woman, or child in Britain, be he prince or be he beggar, shall die henceforth of preventable disease. Let us repent of and amend that scandalous neglect of the now well-known laws of health and cleanliness which destroys thousands of lives yearly in this kingdom, without need and reason; in defiance alike of science, of humanity, and of our Christian profession. Two hundred thousand persons, I am told, have died of preventable fever since the Prince Consort's death ten years ago. Is that not a sin to bow our hearts as the heart of one man? Ah, if this foul and needless disease, by striking once at the very highest, shall bring home to us the often told, seldom heeded fact that it is striking perpetually at hundreds among the very lowest, whom we leave to sicken and die in dens unfit for men--unfit for dogs; if this tragedy shall awaken all loyal citizens to demand and to enforce, as a duty to their sovereign, their country, and their God, a sanatory reform in town and country, immediate, wholesale, imperative; if it shall awaken the ministers of religion to preach about that, and hardly aught but that-- till there is not a fever ally or a malarious ditch left in any British city;--then indeed this fair and precious life will not have been imperilled in vain, and generations yet unborn will bless the memory of a prince who sickened as poor men sicken, and all but died, as poor men die, that his example--and, it may be hereafter, his exertions--might deliver the poor from dirt, disease, and death.

For him himself I have no fear. We have committed him to God. It may be that he has committed himself to God. It may be that he has already learned lessons which God alone can teach. It may be that those lessons will bring forth hereafter royal fruit right worthy of a royal root. At least we can trust him in God's hands, and believe that if this great woe was meant to ennoble us it was meant to ennoble him; that if it was meant to educate us it was meant to educate him; that God is teaching him; and that in God's school-house he is safe. For think, my friends, if we, who know him partly, love him much; then God, who knows him wholly, loves him more. And so God be with him, and with you, and with your prayers for him. Amen.


Charles Kingsley