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Growth of the British Empire by  M. B. Synge


 

 

CITIZENSHIP

"Be great in act as you have been in thought;

Grow great by your example, and put on

The dauntless spirit of resolution."

—SHAKSPERE.

IT has just been stated that the British Empire depends on the men and women, who have themselves created it. Therefore it is of vast importance that the boys and girls of to-day—subjects of the king, inheritors of the Empire, makers of the future—should rightly understand their responsibilities.

The prosperity of a free nation depends, not on its king and rulers only, but mainly on its people—on every single individual who dwells under the protection of its flag. Every grown man, with certain qualifications, has a vote—that is, a voice in the government of the country. He controls taxation, directs commerce, and regulates the relationships of his country with foreign lands. But how can he do this well, if he does not know the [242] history of his own country and her relations with the great world around her?

"What do they know of England

Who only England know?"

A man cannot exercise his full powers unless he has been educated, or learnt for himself the past history of his own country and those with which she is connected. So that "knowledge of the road by which we have come may indicate the line of further advance."

Hence one of the great duties of a citizen lies in the attainment of education. It is a vital interest, and on it the fate of the Empire may hang. "Knowledge is power." Nothing is more dangerous than ignorance. Every mother who sends her child regularly to school is strengthening the nation; every child who learns diligently is struggling to become a good citizen; every single-hearted teacher is working for the good of mankind, and the welfare of the Empire.

Germany has become a great power, by reason of her keen interest in education and her industry. The same spirit has dominated the United States of America, where the best possible teaching has been secured for all.

True education does not make a man proud: rather, as Plato remarked long years ago, "You will be soberer and humbler and gentler to other men, not fancying you know what you do not know."

[243] It fits a man for the battle of life, for when school-days are done, there is still much left to learn: there are new methods to be adopted, new inventions to be studied, new ideas to be entertained.

"The old country must wake up," said the Prince of Wales on his return from his colonial tour in 1901, "if she intends to maintain her old position of pre-eminence in her colonial trade against foreign competition."

The old country cannot wake up, unless every individual awakes to this necessity.

Education is much, but not all. Honest work, well done, is building up the nation's power and strengthening her manhood. Here again each must play his part. As each stick is needed to make up a faggot, so the work of each member of a community is necessary to ensure success. The commanding general receives applause for a brilliant victory, but he acknowledges the essential part played by his subordinates. It has been said that the battle of Omdurman was won in the workshops of Wady Halfa. Victory abroad is due to good work done in the iron-foundries at home,—due to those who manufacture the soldiers' boots and fill their cartridges, due to the hard-working engineer of the railway line, just as much as to the courage of the soldiers who fight in the field. It is hard to overrate the importance of small things, but for every plank laid straight, every [244] button firmly stitched, every boot well soled, the nation, is better and stronger.

"In all true work," says Carlyle, "were it but true hand-labour, there is something of divineness. Labour has its summit in heaven."

Then the good citizen will love his country. He will glory in her old traditions of freedom and justice, he will strive to maintain them for his children and his children's children. Ready to learn for her, ready to work for her, he will be ready, if need be, to fight for her.

England's navy is her "all-in-all"; but she keeps a smaller standing army than any other nation of her size. Her sons, however, in the face of danger, are ready to leave their desks and their homes to lay down their lives for her. They have shown that our small standing army would thus, in case of war, be augmented by great numbers of voluntary soldiers.

"If the mother country requires the services of her sons," said a colonist of New South Wales, "she could have, not 1000, not 10,000, not 100,000, but the last man we have."

If such patriotism dominates Britons beyond the seas, what of those at home? They will stand by her, as their forefathers have stood, faithful to death. They will fight, not for the object of adding glory to the flag, not to enlarge their possessions, not for the pride of superiority over other nations less fortunate than themselves, but ever to [245] spread freedom and justice for the benefit of the whole world.

With you, then, children of to-day, lies the future of the British Empire. "The old bees die, the young possess the hive," said Shakspere long ages ago.

"Chained to the narrow round of Duty," work on, live on, spend and be spent. Let Nelson's watchword never fail the children of the Empire; let the national ideal never be lowered. Be true to your great trust, true to your home, your country, and your God. And the generation which is passing hence, shall not fear to leave its glorious heritage in the faithful keeping of such as these.

"O Strength Divine of Roman days,

O Spirit of the age of Faith,

Go with our sons on all their ways

When we long since are dust and wraith."

—NEWBOLT.


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