WHY BRITAIN STILL LEADS
AN ADDRESS BY DR. J. WESLEY BREADY, PH.D.
Chairman: The President, Dr. F. A. Gaby
Thursday, April 25, 1940
THE PRESIDENT: I have a great deal of pleasure in introducing to you today an experienced and noted lecturer, Dr. J. Wesley Bready, who is an explorer of social and industrial relationships with an international reputation. He has been the recipient of many honours: B.A. from Queen's University; B.D. from Toronto University; M. A. from Columbia University.
Dr. Bready has travelled extensively throughout the Dominion and his interest in sociology has become his chief life work. This caused him to move to Great Britain in 1920 and one result of his work there was the award of Doctor of Philosophy from London University, upon the recommendation of the famous historian, George Macauley Trevelyan, O.M.
In addition to his many lecture tours, he is also an author of note, and among his books are Lord Shaftesbury and Social-Industrial Progress, first edition in 1926; Dr. Barnardo: Physician, Pioneer, Prophet, first edition in 1930: and England before and After Wesley, published a year ago and already in a fifth edition. The last mentioned was chosen as a "Book of the Month" in England in 1939. He is a true Imperialist and a firm believer in the perpetuity of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
I take much pleasure in introducing Dr. J. Wesley Bready, whose address is entitled, "Why Britain Still Leads." (Applause)
DR. J. WESLEY BREADY, PH.D.: Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen: Before grappling with my subject, allow me to express my warm appreciation of the honour bestowed upon me in inviting me to address this august Club, whose purpose is the true service of a liberty-loving, liberty-mediating and liberty-defending Empire.
My only apology for speaking from this platform is that as a Canadian born, I have had the privilege of spending some seventeen years of historical research in those glorious Islands I love to call the Mother Country. Those years, moreover, afforded me the privilege--a great privilege--of interpreting the lives of three of the noblest sons of the Empire, of three, I think, of the most truly noble sons of the modern world: John Wesley, Lord Shaftesbury, the mighty social reformer, and Dr. Barnardo, "the Father of Nobody's Children". This study and these years of sojourn in the Mother Country have made me realize as never before could I have realized, the debt of the whole world to the liberty-loving and liberty-spreading spirit of the British Empire.
Well, Gentlemen, we meet in troubled times. Today, over the face of the earth, liberty is being threatened. Today, freedom, justice, righteousness, truth, mercy and religion are on the defensive. Blustering, bullying and brutal forces in the form of totalitarian states are rampant. Everywhere the armies and the emissaries of the totalitarian states are striving, ruthlessly, to trample to death the spirit of liberty--yea, some of us believe of civilization itself.
Tyrannies, however, are no new thing in this old world's history. Military, political, academic, economic and even religious tyrannies have had their day and ceased to be; but never, perhaps, has the world been threatened with such a tyranny-so gruesome, so repulsive, so soulless-as that inherent in the ideologies of these modern totalitarian states, these states that would coerce initiative and suppress freedom.
The other day I ran across some humorous lines which to me were suggestive. I pass them on
Germany's Reichstag has met once more, "Ja!" says the Reichstag, "Ja!"
To hear the speech it has heard before, "Ja!" says the Reichstag, "Ja!"
It has no voice and it has no views, It just comes in on the chorus ques, With the only word it's allowed to use, "Ja!" says the Reichstag, "Ja!"
Deputies "Heil", and click their heels, "Ja!" says the Reichstag, "Ja!"
Quite as human as well-trained seals, "Ja!" says the Reichstag, "Ja!"
Hitler herring, without their roes, Hitler "yes-men", without their "No's", Hitler's clack for his one-man shows, "Ja!" says the Reichstag, "Ja!"
There you are, Gentlemen. Sometimes humour comes close to truth.
In this skit surely is reflected the world's arch-tragedy today. Not only Germany and her vassal states, but Russia, Italy and Japan are flattened under the steam roller of a "Ja! Ja!" system of military dictation. In these countries all creative debate is silenced; all consciences are coerced; all non-conformity to official tyranny is muzzled. Hence, free people today, the world over, are looking increasingly to Britain for guidance, leadership and defence.
This brings me to my central theme: why does Britain still lead? Why, on all sides, are the forces of liberty and conscience assembling beneath her banner and behind her shield?
In answering this question I know there are some who simply would say that the British people by nature are so uniquely endowed with balance, graciousness, good sportsmanship and the love of liberty, that they are comparatively free of the Old Adam, and therefore predestined to world leadership. Now, that the land of Chaucer, Spencer, Shakespeare, Milton and Cromwell was possessed of a more-than-ordinary instinct for liberty, fair play and decency, who will deny? Nevertheless, to suggest that the British people are by nature superior to all others and that in an unbroken and, as it were, apostolic succession, they have been the mediators of justice, freedom and integrity, is surely to do violence to the facts of history and to betray truth. Britain's record is such that we can afford to be both frank and fair.
To three eras in modern British history I now invite your attention: First, the era of moral and spiritual eclipse: and that we must admit. Secondly, the era of moral and spiritual rebirth. Thirdly, the era of epic reform.
The first of these three eras we must needs treat frankly, if briefly. The second we shall centre in the life of an incomparable spiritual leader, a Briton to the bone. A discussion of the third is utterly essential to any understanding of the heritage of conscience, vision and achievement which the British Empire at this moment is guarding and defending for all liberty-loving peoples the world over.
We proceed, then, to the first of these three specified periods, the era of moral and spiritual eclipse. The late 17th and early 18th century in England is designated in the Cambridge Modern History as--"an age of materialism, a period of dim ideals and expiring hopes." It is a sad picture.
This was the age when the slave trade was dominating England's economic and financial life and Britain, following the Treaty of Utrecht, in 1713, rejoiced in gaining the lion's share of that nefarious traffic. This age of "expiring hopes" was also the age of gin-drunkenness. In the large cities-London, Bristol, Norfolk-hundreds of public houses hung out signs, "Drunk for a Penny; Dead Drunk 2 pence; Free Straw."
It was the age, too, we must admit, of South Sea Bubble finance, of Whig oligarchy politics, with its shameless corruption; the age of incredible child neglect. It was the age of shallow brilliance and tinsel show. Like most charlatan eras of history that put on airs it called itself "the Age of Reason and Naturalism". In reality, it was the age of Rationalistic Materialism and Futilitarian Fatalism. Pope was but expressing the Zeitgeist of that era when he wrote, "One truth is clear, whatever is, is right." Of course that included the slave trade. It included the rotten politics of that period. It included the right of a sceptical, cynical clique to domineer over the vast outcast multitudes of working England in that day.
Mandeville, in his Fable of the Bees was more outspoken than Pope. He dared to write, "To make society happy it is necessary that great numbers should be wretched as well as poor."
This swashbuckling paganism was, as we shall soon see, checked and defeated in England by an unparalleled revival of vital, practical Christianity. But ere passing to that Baptism of Fire, it is significant to note that Montesquieu, Rousseau and Voltaire had all lived in this Deistic England. They all had been feted by the smart sceptical set and they carried back to France this species of Deism called Rationalistic Naturalism, or more accurately, Rationalistic Materialism, and there it finally issued in the holocaust and bloodshed, known as the "Reign of Terror."
From France this same Humanistic Paganism travelled to Germany and there issued in Nietzsche's Power Politics that expressed themselves finally in Prussian Militarism. Nietzsche, himself, incidentally, died in a mad-house.
Later, when Economics was to the fore, Karl Marx took the same Atheistic Materialism, and dressing it up in the so-called "philosophy" of Communism, created the vitriolic propaganda which issued in that spiritual monstrosity, Bolshevik Russia.
Well, Gentlemen, that is a sorry period of History. It is with joy we pass on to the second part of our subject--the era of England's moral and spiritual rebirth- Now, we will see a different country from the England in that age of the slave trade and rotten politics.
I invite you to return now to the Cambridge Modern History. We see that this great history characterized the foregoing age as an "age of materialism, dim ideals and expiring hopes-" Thank God, it continues: "Before the middle of the century its character was transformed; there appeared a movement, headed by a mighty leader, who brought forth water from the rocks to make a barren land live again." These are the words of Dr. Temperlay in the Cambridge Modern History, designating "The Age of Reason."
Recall that today the totalitarian states are calling themselves expressions of "The Age of Science".
This mighty leader, "who brought forth water from the rocks to make a barren land live again," is the central character in the greatest moral and spiritual drama the British Empire in its whole history has known. Mark the verdict of that great Minister of Education, the Rt. Honourable Augustine Birrell: "No man lived nearer to the centre than John Wesley; neither Pitt nor Clive, neither Mansfield nor Johnson. You cannot cut him out of the national life. No single figure influenced so many minds: no single voice touched so many hearts; no other man did such a life's work for England-"
What an amazing tribute! Could we point to any other character, in all modern history, and pay such a tribute as that? Yet it is paid by a great educationist and statesman. Nor do such tributes stand alone. You will pardon me mentioning that just after the publication of my book, England: Before and After Wesley, Sir Charles Oman, head of the Modern History Department of Oxford, Member of Parliament for Oxford, and Intelligence Officer of the British Government during the last war, wrote me saying:-"I have always, Sir, agreed with your central conclusion, that John Wesley saved England from spiritual and moral collapse."
It is a stupendous claim. Why, then, have most historians ignored such things? Why? That is one of the vital questions of this hour.
As friends of the Empire, whatever our politics or our creed, let us pause now and consider briefly the life of this amazing man whom historians have little understood and much ignored.
We can indulge but a flying panorama. At 35 years of age, this man, who later was to save England and the Empire from moral and spiritual collapse, was a failure. Note that word. Don't misunderstand me. From his earliest youth he had been a person of amazing self-discipline, amazing intelligence, amazing erudition and amazing sincerity. He had been a Don at Oxford (an Oxford Professor) and was a great classic scholar. Nevertheless, he was a failure.
Then something happened. This disillusioned professor-priest underwent a transforming spiritual experience, called (it is a word today unpopular) "conversion". Would to God we knew its meaning! It would be great for the Empire. He had a soul-illuminating, heart-warming rebirth; and that experience lifted him up, like his Lord, to the Mount of Transfiguration. To use Wesley's own words, his "spiritual eyes were opened" and he beheld the Holy One, the Invisible. His "spiritual ears were unstopped" and he heard the still, small voice of the Son of God, and began to live abundantly, triumphantly, as never before. The old tattered robes of legalism fell from him, and he knew himself "clothed upon" with the new and gleaming mantle of the Spirit Eternal.
This man, after his rebirth, looked with a seer's vision upon this England in eclipse, the England of the slave trader, the England of the kidnapper, the England of rotten theatres with free entrances for prostitutes of the street, the England of brutal sports-the England of a Deistic clique that had left the multitudes to wallow in ignorance, bestiality and shame. The Age of Reason, indeed!
Like the prophet of old, Wesley's soul cried out: "Here am I, Oh, God! Use me! -not as I will but as Thou wilt, if only England be saved!" For, with spiritual eyes he could see beneath the adultery, the drunkenness and the debauchery, the infinite value of the souls of men-
So, he came down from that mount of transfiguration to the mundane affairs of everyday life. He began moving about among the common people as a priest of the Church of England, who loved the Church of England, who loved its Creed, who had no quarrel with the Church if only it would do its job and be faithful to its purpose. He tried to work within it. I shall not engage in controversy; but I have spent years of research in this field, and the blunt truth is that he was not wanted. Probably the greatest of the Bishops of that age, Bishop Butler, told Wesley in Bristol, "You are not wanted here, Sir, go hence!"
So, in the Providence of God, working with Whitefield, his amazing colleague, Wesley took to the open fields and soon we find him travelling all over the beautiful countryside of England. (How those of us who know it love it!) Over the hills, across the ferns, fording streams and struggling in currents, sometimes hanging on to his horse's tail. He was everywhere--at the mouth of the pit, at the door of the factory, in village market places--on town cobble stones. Yea, millions of British cobble stones are forever sacred where multitudes of British workmen kneeled as this man of God led them in prayer. England was in the process of finding her soul.
Think of the titanic labours of this man. In all recorded history they defy a parallel. He preached, in the fifty-three years succeeding his conversion, 46,000 sermons. He travelled--mostly on horse-back or on foot--226,000 miles. Despite all his other work, he published 233 books and pamphlets. He made £30,000 profits out of his writings alone. He was incomparably the greatest adult educator modern history in any land has yet known, and he never spent more than £30 a year on his own person. His was a life of almost unparalleled abstemiousness. He died in his eighty-eighth year, worth less than k10. He had given his all to God and to man.
No wonder Mr. Baldwin, now Lord Baldwin, when Prime Minister, said, "I am supposed to be a busy man but by the side of John Wesley I am one of the unemployed."
No wonder that Lloyd George, in reviewing the life of Wesley, said, "He left to the whole English-speaking world a heritage incomparably sublime."
Why, Gentlemen, as citizens of this Empire--I don't care whether you be Jew or Gentile, Protestant or Catholic--you owe an unspeakable debt of gratitude to the sheer majesty of the life of this man of God who poured out his soul without thought of fee or hire to save England. Again, have you ever thought of the debt of Democracy to this incomparable man, or the debt of Democracy to his Class Leaders, to say nothing of his itinerary preachers, that mighty army of self-taught Enthusiasts under their great Oxford Don?
Pause a moment on the Class Leaders--what a place they really have, if history were truly written, in the development of British Democracy. Have you ever known that Wesley was in contact with some ten thousand Class Leaders all over Britain before his death? Wherever he went, travelling everywhere in all sorts of weather, there were tortured souls who wanted to free themselves from drunkenness and sin and dishonesty and violence; so he formed seeking men into groups of twelve, under a man of character; while twelve seeking women he placed under a woman of character--to build them up in faith. They prayed together, worked together, and testified as to the miracles God had wrought in their hearts. All too, were sworn to secrecy concerning Class confessions.
Of course they had troubles.
There was an old fellow of Crewe, Who discovered a mouse in his stew. Said the waiter: "Don't shout and wave it about, Or the rest will be wanting one too."
Think that over and apply it to the Class Meetings. There were mice that got into the stew-even rats. But these Class Leaders, trained under Wesley, became some of the most winsome characters in Britain. When problems arose, they didn't shout and wave them about.
For instance, if a man in a Class lapsed back into drunkenness, and tens of thousands of drunkards were reclaimed in this miraculous movement in England, they didn't wag their heads and say, "I told you so. What is the good of it?" They got down on their knees in prayer and yearned over that man as a mother over a fallen son. They went out after him when his old cronies had taken him off and poured gin down his throat; they won him back, and rejoiced more over the one sinner returned than over the ninety-and-nine that were safe in the fold.
When you consider those ten thousand Class Leaders, what does Democracy in Britain not owe to such a movement as that? Again we quote Lord Baldwin. "Historians," he says, "who fill their pages with Napoleon and have nothing to say of Wesley, now are beginning to realize that they can never explain 19th century England until they first explain John Wesley," He poignantly added: "I believe it equally true to say they will never understand what is best in 20th century America until they understand Wesley." His influence embraced the world.
This leads us to the third and concluding section of our survey--the era of epic reform. The abolition of the slave trade and slavery, by concensus of opinion among the greatest modern historians, is the cardinal achievement of all modern history.
Four times Professor George Macaulay Trevelyan; O.M., in his History of the 19th Century, refers to the abolition of this nefarious traffic as a "turning event" in modern "world history." Note that word "world". He doesn't say "British"; he doesn't say "European"; he says "world history". This turning event, Trevelyan reminds us, came "only just in time". Had the accursed traffic in human blood continued but a little longer, nothing is more certain than that the rising cupidity of the growing nationalisms of Europe, not content with transporting African slaves from their own continent to the new world, would have parcelled out the whole African Continent (the second largest) into "slave farms".
Trevelyan continues: "The inevitable Nemesis of that travesty of humanity and justice would as certainly have spelled the dissolution and destruction of modern European civilization-he doesn't say of 'British civilization', but 'modern European civilization'-as the institution of slavery spelled the destruction of the old civilization of Greece and Rome."
Well, Gentlemen, here we are in the realm of the imponderables, so staggering in proportion that the average man passes by because of spiritual blindness. To talk about the British Empire without recognition of these things is to try to understand the body without any cognizance of the soul that expresses itself through the body.
Who then were the chief leaders in this great achievement, this miracle of modern history? Note well their names: Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce, Zachary Macaulay, Cowper the poet, Hannah More, Sir James Stephen-go right through the list, including John Newton and Thomas Buxton and every single one of them was an avowed Christian. They were of every denomination, including Quakers, Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Anglicans and Catholics. Yes! But all of them, in the last analysis, were children of the new Zeitgeist--the new birth of national conscience which Wesley had wrought. Indeed the Evangelical revival represents the Great Divide, the water-shed, of modern British history. It bequeathed a new soul to the common people of England.
These things are essential to our understanding of Britain today, but we pass from this amazing achievement to the foundations of popular education. And their build ing represents a romantic story that started with a humble Sunday School.
The next step was the creation of the Royal Lancastrian School Society. Following that, came the British and Foreign School Society, uniting all Non-Conformists; and after that, the National School Society under the Church of England. Then, in like succession, came Shaftesbury's Educational Classes in the Factory Acts, and later, the romantic Ragged School Movement, with which Charles Dickens and some of the geniuses of England were associated. The Bible was its chief text.
Only after all this, through the famous Board School Act, came free and popular education for the common people of England; and Gladstone under whose Government it was passed, said that it "simply filled in the gaps". Next came the humanizing of the Prison System and the Penal Code. John Howard and Elizabeth Fry were the epic characters in this field. Both were children of the new Christian Revival, the mighty Baptism of Fire, that had spread over England and through the Empire, mediating heart warmth, soul illumination and moral power. We press on to the emancipation of industrial England; and what an achievement it was! Don't forget, first, that the crudities, and cruelties and the exploitations of the early Industrial Revolution began under slavery. Most historians have utterly ignored that fact. But who now was raised up as a prophet-statesman, to lift the arms of protecting love against the exploitation of women and children? Why, Lord Shaftesbury, as every school boy should know. Think a moment regarding his life. He was born in a godless, though titled, home. The love of God and man was breathed into his soul by an old Christian nurse, Maria Millis. At fourteen years of age, while a student at Harrow School, he saw a pauper's funeral in which the pallbearers were so stupidly drunk they stumbled and fell, allowing the coffin to crash to earth, and crack. Like Lincoln at New Orleans, Shaftesbury vowed a vow and prayed a prayer, the tenor of which was: "Oh, God, can these things be in Christian England?" And there, he dedicated his life to the uplift of the downtrodden and oppressed among his countrymen.
Later he went to Oxford where he graduated with first class honours in Classics. At twenty-five he was an M.P. At twenty-seven, he obtained Cabinet rank. Fifty-seven of the sixty years of Shaftesbury's public life were given without a penny of pay, and he was a poor man all of his life. For many years, while his father disowned him, he had to borrow money to educate his ten children.
Consider the majesty of his life's work. He passed the epic and transforming succession of Factory Acts. He passed the Mines and Collieries Bill, the Chimney Sweep Acts, different Health, Housing and Education reforms, and also the Lodging House Bill which Dickens described as "the best Act ever passed by a British Legislature". He gave his whole life in a passionate outpouring for the welfare of the common people. Does his career mean nothing in understanding the heritage of this Empire? If we neglect it the workers of England have not neglected it. Many of you know Piccadilly Circus, London. In the heart of Piccadilly Circus stands an amazing memorial, commonly called the "Eros Monument". It is the Shaftesbury Memorial, built by the consecrated pennies of the emancipated industrial workers of England. The busiest spot in this Empire therefore contains not the memorial of a British King, or of Shakespeare, the King of Literature, but of the Prince of Social Reformers, the great Lord Shaftesbury, who gave his all in a missionary crusade (himself an Earl) to enrich the life of the common people of England. He, like Wilberforce, was a product of the same great Spiritual Awakening.
A step further, as we draw toward our conclusion. I had the honour of writing the history of the Barnardo Homes. Dr. Barnardo's work was such that it is cardinal to the understanding of the humanity of this Empire.
At sixteen Barnardo was a priggish agnostic. Then came a spiritual awakening. He came from Dublin, his native city, to London to train as a medical missionary to China. In London's East End slums he opened up, at his own expense, a Donkey Shed Ragged School. One night he discovered a half-starved urchin trying to hide in the school. He took him home, fed him and discovered in talking with him that he had no friend in the world; he slept out. After a hot meal, Barnardo put a half-crown in his pocket and challenged the youngster to lead him out into the night and show him a "lay" of boys sleeping out. The challenge was accepted, and off they went. After two hours' search, Barnardo climbed a wall, ten feet high near the banks of the Thames; and there he saw the challenge of his life's work-eleven homeless boys sleeping out on a metal roof on a winter's night.
Barnardo never saw China, the land of his dreams. He opened up the East End Juvenile Mission, and out of it grew the Barnardo Homes. Those Homes, to date, have mothered and reared 130,000 once destitute and homeless boys. They have rendered temporary help to a half-million more. Two per cent of all the British stock in our fair Dominion of Canada are Barnardo children and their descendants. At this moment, Barnardo Homes are mothering 8,500 once destitute bairns.
Do you think you can understand our Empire without an understanding of this, and analogous Christian organizations? I am not saying the British Empire is wholly Christian. I am not saying that there has ever been a truly Christian state or Empire in history; but I believe the British Empire, since the time of Wesley has been more Christian than any other great political system the world has yet known.
The foregoing, Gentlemen, are but a few of the rich fruits which the "epic era of social reform" brought to the British Empire. To attempt to understand British Democracy without reference to these things is like an attempt to understand light without reference to the sun. The mighty Spiritual Awakening under Wesley produced the inimitable century of the Pax Britannica, the most truly creative century, perhaps, in the history of civilization.
Sir James Barrie, once addressing the Oxford University Union, said, "Now, don't forget to speak slightingly of the Victorians. There will be time enough for you to learn humility when you try to better them." Think that over.
A smart American novelist recently wrote: "Man is a parasite crawling on the vertebrae of the pygmy among the planets." Is that philosophy common in the world today? Could a Wesley, a Wilberforce, a Shaftesbury or a Barnardo have spoken thus of man?
The century of the Pax Britannica was the age of peace because it was an age of hope, of vision and of faith.
Lord Bryce, summing up in his classic, Modern Democracies, writes: "If the spiritual oxygen which has kept alive the attachment to liberty and self-government in the minds of the people becomes exhausted, will not the flame burn low and perhaps flicker out? . . . Without faith nothing is accomplished and hope is the mainspring of faith."
Tragedy, today, is with us. But we are not bereft of hope, and it may be that this war is calling us afresh to guard our spiritual treasure and to recapture and enlarge the faith and the vision that inspired the mighty Pax Britannica and made the British Empire a blessing to the whole wide world.
Gentlemen, I thank you. (Applause)
PRESIDENT: Gentlemen: We have listened to a very excellent address from one thoroughly conversant with his subject. Dr. Bready has so well pointed out that one of the bulwarks of our democracy is the Christian religion, and what it means, and this we must maintain to secure freedom of thought and action and the moral traditions of equal justice so that we may enjoy our spiritual life and liberty. It is what our Anglo-Saxon civilization stands for. We are indeed much indebted to Dr. Bready for coming to us today, and on your behalf I extend to him a hearty vote of thanks and appreciation for his excellent address. (Applause)