Stead, William Thomas: Europa

Turning from the composite dual kingdom, we come to a State which in all things is the antithesis of Austria-Hungary. Austria-Hungary, although extremely diverse in its nationalities, is nevertheless, territorially, within a ring fence. The Danish nation, on the other hand, compact, homogeneous to an extent almost without parallel in Europe, a unity both in race, religion, and in language, is nevertheless scattered over a peninsula and half-a-dozen islands. In the State system of Europe, Denmark, with its handful of population, can throw no sword of Brennus into the scale which decides the destinies of nations; but the nation marches in the van of European progress. Our farmers have learnt by sore experience the energy and initiative which have enabled the Danish peasant to distance all competitors in the markets of Europe. The nation, simple, honest, hardy, and industrious, free from the vices of caste, is one of the most conspicuous examples extant of monarchical democracy. The days have long gone by since Denmark held the keys of the Sound and levied tax and toll on the shipping of the world as it passed through the Baltic to the North Sea. But it is worth while remembering that the freeing of the Sound was an international act, which, as far back as 1857, foreshadowed the collective action of Europe. The royal House of Denmark, which has given a King to Greece, an Empress to Russia, and a future Queen to the British Empire, may fairly claim to be one of the nerve-centers of the Continent. Nor can it be forgotten that in Thorwaldsen, Denmark has the supreme distinction of producing a sculptor whose work recalls the sculpture of ancient Greece. But there are hundreds of millions who have the opportunity of visiting Copenhagen, and to whom the genius of Thorwaldsen is but a thing they have heard but do not understand. The one name which is above every name among the sons of Denmark, which is enshrined within the heart of every child in every land, is that of Hans Christian Andersen, whose fairy tales are the classics of every nursery, and whose “Ugly Duckling” is one of the Birds of Paradise of the world.

We may not agree with Victor Hugo in describing Paris as the Capital of Civilization, the City of Light, but Europe is unthinkable without France. The nation which for centuries was the eldest son of the Church, and which in 1789 became the standard-bearer of the Revolution, has ever played the foremost role in European history. If in the last thirty years she has fallen from her pride of place, and no longer lords it in the Council Chamber, she is none the less an invaluable element in the comity of nations. The French novel has made the tour of the world, the French stage is the despair of all its rivals, and in painting and sculpture the French artists reign supreme. There is a charm about the French character, a lucidity about French writing, a grace about France generally, to which other nations aspire in vain. France is the interpreter to the continent of ideas conceived in Germany or worked out in practical fashion in English-speaking lands. In all the arts and graces of life, especially in everything that tends to make the most of the body, whether in the food of it, the clothing of it, or in the ministering to the universal instincts of the creature man, they leave the rest of the world helplessly behind. We English -a slow-witted race, who did not even know how to build a decent man-of-war until we captured one of the French and used it as a model in our dockyards- can never adequately acknowledge the debt which we owe to our neighbors. They preceded us in conquest round the world; they were the pioneers of empire both in Asia and America. But the supreme distinction of France in the commonwealth of nations to-day is seldom or never appreciated at its full significance. France is the one nation in the world which, fearlessly confronting with remorseless logic the root problems of the world, has decided apparently with irrevocable determination that there are not more than thirty-nine millions of Frenchmen needed as a necessary ingredient in the population of this planet. Other nations may increase and multiply and replenish the earth, but France has made up her mind that, having reached her appointed maximum, therewith she will be content. No temptation, not even the continual multiplication of the surplus millions of German fighting-men on her eastern frontier, nor the envy occasioned by the immense expansion of the English race over the sea, is able to tempt her to forsake her appointed course. What is more remarkable is that this determination can only be executed by asserting the right of will and reason to control in a realm that the Church, to which all French women belong, declares must be left absolutely to the chance of instinct on pain of everlasting damnation. France may or may not have chosen the better part; but the self-denying ordinance by which she deliberately excludes herself from competition with the multiplying races of the world has an aspect capable of being represented in the noblest light.

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