CONSCIENCE AS A NATIONAL ASSET.
Address by the Rev. Dr. O. C. S. Wallace, Chancellor of McMaster University, before the Empire Club of Canada, on March l0th, 1904.
MR. PRESIDENT,--view of what you have just said, perhaps, I would better follow Daniel Webster's advice, and in my opening remarks "give attention to definitions." If Professor Clark, whom I would rather listen-to than speak to, were 'giving a definition of conscience, doubtless he would make it scholastic; with his wealth of learning he could hardly do otherwise. But with his permission, and yours, I will use today a simple and practical definition, easily understood and easily applied. Conscience, according to my definition, involves two things, a judgment and an emotion. In conscience there is a moral judgment respecting right and wrong; not right and wrong in the abstract, not right and wrong in the conduct of another, but right and wrong in. one's own conduct. Growing out of this moral judgment, or accompanying it, there is an emotion; a man likes that which he believes to be right in his conduct, or dislikes that which he believes to be wrong. Depending upon this moral judgment, proceeding from this emotion, there is a sense of obligation, of duty. A man feels that he should do the right thing, and shun the wrong thing.
When we speak of conscience in a national relation, we have in mind the family, the conduct of business, and the conduct of public affairs, political and other; for when conscience asserts itself in these three realms, it adds to the worth and the welfare of the state. There is a tendency in this day for parents to relegate to the schools certain responsibilities, which, in the olden times, the father himself met. I plead for such a conscience in the father as shall put upon himself and hold fast to himself a- responsibility for the upbringing of his family in such a manner, in such a spirit, and with such ideals that his offspring shall take their place in the nation by and by, ready for its responsibilities, and worthy of high things.
It is obvious that conscience in the transaction of business is necessary to a successful prosecution of the multitudinous affairs of our business world. A year ago the financiers of this city were filled with anxiety lest the financial troubles through which some in Toronto were passing should result in a general loss of confidence; for upon the confidence of the people in our institutions and in the men who direct them, the business of Canada depends. Withdraw confidence and the whole fabric is shattered. This is so obvious that I need not dwell upon it for a moment. Confidence between business man and business man, and confidence in the officials of our great financial institutions, is necessary to commercial stability and progress. And the basis of confidence is conscience.
Colonel Mason has made a pleasant reference, with a painful implication, to the politics of our country. Conscience in public affairs, political and other, makes the difference between a great nation and a little nation, a progressive nation and a retrogressive nation. There are worse things in politics than party animosities. Party or individual lack of conscience is worse. I am not of those who rejoice when there is nothing of strenuous feeling between the representatives of parties, and who think that in this there is a promise of an early millenium. I do not rejoice when there is no occasion for great differences of opinion and for profound feeling growing out of those differences. It is not necessary, nor is it desirable, that we should all think alike. It is well for a nation when there are occasions for deep feeling growing out of a profound conviction. Stalwart convictions are elements of greatness, whether in an individual or a nation. It is deplorable when in any nation those who guide the lawmaking and the business of the country, or those who have to do with the interpretation of the law or its execution, are able to compromise with conscience, and to turn lightly and easily from the right to the wrong. I would plead, if it were necessary to plead, for such a conscience in the family, in business and in politics, as should hold the people of Canada closely to high ideals, to high ideals for national ends.
Now a word concerning the phrase "a national asset," in the statement of my subject, which Colonel Mason says has puzzled some. I mean by national asset a something which has a value, not imaginary, but actual, to the nation, a something which is a part of the nation's working capital, with which it meets its obligations, with which it does its business; and it is because I conceive of conscience as a part of the working capital of Canada that I speak in this way of conscience as a national asset. What I have said already will, perhaps, be sufficient to make clear what my viewpoint is, and I need not occupy more time in enlarging upon this thought.
The use of the word "national" in this connection is deliberate, and is meant to be significant. I sympathize with those Canadians who are willing for the present to submit to the word "colonial," but who do not like it. I am willing for the present to be with those who are laughed at, because of their large and glowing aspirations, to take my place beside the men who study the future more than the past. The men who look forth upon the present only, and shut themselves into that vision, may call some Canadians presumptuous, if not bumptious, visionary, if not fantastical; and they may laugh at us contemptuously and -superciliously; but I have never felt it a disgrace to have my visions laughed at by the blind. Professor Clark will probably remember the story concerning Norman McLeod and the doctrine of evolution. Professor Clark, I think, knows all of the stories, especially those that have a literary flavour. Norman McLeod once attended a meeting of the British Association when the doctrine of evolution was not so well known, and not so generally accepted, as it is now, and he was not pleased with the assent given by the members of the Association to the new doctrine, and he expressed his dissatisfaction by rewriting the first chapter of Genesis. This is how it stood when he was done with it.
First verse: " The earth was without form and void." Second verse: " A meteor fell upon the earth."
Third verse: " The result was fish, flesh and fowl."
Fourth verse: " From these proceeded the British Association.
Fifth verse: " And the British Association pronounced it all tolerably good."
There are those who admit that there has been a marvellous evolution in the past in national organization and ideal. They have seen when the material universe was without form and void. They have seen the fall of the meteor. They have seen from the meteor fish, flesh and fowl; and from fish, flesh and fowl they have seen the evolution of themselves and their times. But the unfortunate thing is that they pronounce it all "tolerably good." They are satisfied, and look for nothing greater in the future. They are distrustful, if not pessimistic, when they face the question as to whether anything better can be done among nations than has been done already. I take it that the Empire Club is composed of prophets, of seers, of men who hope, of men who have large visions, of men who say " our nation," and mean Canada. But when we use the word " national," in speaking of Canada, we confess one or other of two hopes. One might use the word " national " with a thought of future independence, of a national life entirely separate governmentally from the Empire. We are not taking that position today, I hope. As we use now the word "national" in speaking of Canada, we are actually looking forward to a time when the Empire shall consist, not of a group of colonies, but of a group of nations. This is saying that we have a new idea of a nation, and a new idea of an Empire. And why not?
We are thinking of the British Empire as composed of the English-Scotch-Irish nation, the Canadian nation, the Australian nation, the Indian nation, the South African nation, and-shall I say it?-the Egyptian nation, and other nations, too. Why should there not be in this century, with all the best of the centuries to teach us, with all the accumulated resources, intellectual, moral, religious, of the present day-why should there not be evolved an Imperial ideal better than any that was known when Rome ruled the world; better than any proud dream of the " Little Corsican "; better than any martial shape that takes form in the vision of a Czar or a Kaiser, or, perhaps, a Mikado; better than even that glorious and mighty reality which our Imperial fathers have wrought out upon this solid earth? Why not? Why may we not have a vision more glorious, an ideal more lofty, and by and by a reality more grand and exalted than anything the past has known?
Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen, it is with some such hopes, with some such visions, that I approach my own duty, and invite you to approach your own duty, as citizens of Canada today. The present conditions in Canada are favourable to the production of great men. I do not want to talk like a fool simply because I am a Canadian. I do not want other people to hope like fools because they are Canadians. I hold that you and I should talk and hope like wise men, and we do this when we speak of and hope for the production of great men in Canada. The Bedouin wants to know where to pitch his black tent, where to find pasture for his camels or his horses, and how best to advance the interests, the little interests, of his little tribe. He lives a little life and dies a little man. Great tasks, great responsibilities, great obligations, make men great. Now, look the world over today, and where will you find in any country greater questions facing a people, greater problems to be solved, greater responsibilities looming up before them, than we find in our own country?
You have heard discussions here again and again on the importance of developing the material resources of Canada. That involves a large responsibility. You have doubtless had some discussion here on the importance of a new study of the units making up this great Confederation, the individual organization of each of those units, and of their relations to each other. We have also our Imperial relationships and responsibilities. We have questions facing us today, though I may not stay to rehearse them, so significant in character, so ominous in possibility, that if we have ordinary intelligence, even ordinary moral and mental grip, we cannot face them, certainly we cannot wrestle with them, without growing in the process. And I want to say today that in developing the resources of Canada, in solving the municipal, provincial, Dominion and Imperial problems, in attaining to the high and great things which are beckoning us onward, there must be a regard for moral fibre, a regard for conscience as the foundation of all, if our glorious possibilities are to be attained. The development of material resources-is that in any way concerned with morality and with conscience? The tree on the stump, the fish in the sea, the gold in the mine, the wheat unharvested, they have no value. And it is not enough that there be hands to harvest, to gather, to prepare these resources; except as we are a developed people, physically, mentally and morally, we shall not be able to make the largest use for ourselves and for others, of the wealth which lies at our hands.
At the present time there are dangers in respect to conscience, dangers lest conscience be dulled, lest moral standards be lowered. There are capitalistic combinations that seem to be inevitable, and there is a proverb that a corporation has no soul. This means simply that a member of a corporation does not feel that keen individual responsibility for the actions of the corporation which he would feel for his own actions. There are labour combinations, and strikes issuing from them, in which the individual as one of a multitude takes positions and approves of deeds which if he were alone he would never approve. I simply point to these, I do not emphasize them today. There is evidently a withdrawal of emphasis from individualism, and with it the lessening of the sense of responsibility; and this is ominous. There is also a withdrawal of emphasis from the particular. Important little things are not emphasized as they were. Greatly to the advantage of the people, in many respects, there is a growth of good-will.
Professor Clark and I a few days ago united in conducting a religious service in the University of Toronto; he is an Anglican, I am a Baptist. That couldn't have happened fifty years ago in this country. Not that the Anglicans were any better then. Not that the Baptists are any better now. But there has been a growth of good-will. There is today a very significant movement in our country towards a union of certain Christian denominations. I have no word of criticism or comment to offer in respect to this; I mention it as an illustration of the growth of tolerance and mutual sympathy. But they used to say in England that wherever the Lord had a church the devil had a chapel. I have sometimes feared that this proverb originated with the Anglicans! I won't dwell upon that--to do so might be painful to me as a Dissenter; but I put it before you to dwell on. Wherever there is a movement having in it great possibilities for good, there will be possibilities of evil, and there is a tendency at the present day to make compromises in the interests of good-will, and in order to escape from prejudice and narrowness, to make light of conscience. Rather let there be full emphasis on conscience even if it compels the other man to differ from me or from you, or compels you and me to differ from him.
There is also at the present time a worship of success. This is partly due to the material growth of our country, and to those opportunities for success which come only when there is great material prosperity. We may learn from our neighbours. When Charles Dickens visited the United States, he observed there an emphasis upon smartness and success, which he believed would yet prove the undoing of that great country. He says: " The following dialogue I have held a hundred times: 'Is it not a very disgraceful circumstance that such a man as So-and-So should have acquired so much property by the most infamous means, and notwithstanding all the crimes of which he has been guilty should be tolerated and abetted by your citizens? He is a public nuisance, is he not?'
" 'Yes, sir.'
" 'A convicted liar?' 'Yes, sir.'
" 'He has been kicked and cuffed and caned?'
" 'Yes, sir.'
" 'And he is utterly debased?'
" 'Yes, sir.'
" 'In the name of wonder, then, what is his merit?'
" 'Well, sir, he is a smart man."'
Something of this spirit has been coming into Canada, partly as a result of the material development of our country, and partly through the influence of imported literature. I dare say that I shall be treading upon the tender places of some when I declare that according to my judgment it is a great evil that in connection with Christian churches there should be Success Clubs, in which the great object presumably is to teach boys "how to win success." In many of the addresses which are heard by our school children, the great and dominant note today is "how to win success." That spirit pervades our society everywhere. Failure is criminal. The man who fails is tabooed. This tendency to emphasize the value of mere ability, the ability to succeed, has already wrought great harm. It has robbed Canada of many promising citizens. How many of our young men whom we would gladly have held in our own country are helping to build up another country! They have been won away from us because they saw greater financial prizes among strangers than at home. And men say they do not blame them for going where they can get the most money, and our newspapers are given to glorifying the success of our men abroad, and in this way they stir up others to go where" they too may win money and position. Unless I am quite mistaken, in a former generation there was no such emphasis put upon the success that was measured by material standards. The man was great who had character, whose ideals were noble, while money counted for less than it does now.
There is a danger from immigration to which hardly sufficient attention is being given by Canadians. I lived some years in the United States, and saw there the evils of their immigration. Immigration from Europe and Asia to this continent will tend toward the lowering of moral standards of the nation if there be not a constant and wise care. Immigration, it is true, under some circumstances, may strengthen conscience. It was so when the Pilgrim Fathers came to New England. Some one has said that they came with the intention of worshipping God according to the dictates of their own conscience, and of making everybody else do the same. This made it uncomfortable for dissentients. My forefathers were persecuted in the Massachusetts colony because they were Baptists. Perhaps the forefathers of some of you were persecuted because they were Quakers. You will remember that Baptists and Quakers and witches were once vigorously persecuted in the Massachusetts colony by those conscientious New England people. And this may seem very bad. But I call your attention, gentlemen, to the miracle of assimilation which has taken place in the United States; the power of that great people to assimilate the millions who have come to their shores is one of the miracles of history. Credit something of that to the conscience of New England. But New England has changed in the last fifty years, changed greatly even in the last twenty-five years, and changed largely because of a different type of immigration. Immigration in the past has given to Canada much of strength of conscience and of moral quality. But what of the future? We want people, we must .have people to develop our resources, but let us take heed that our dreams do not lead by and by to such an awakening as that which has come in the United States.
I will lay emphasis on only one thing more, and it is something in which I am particularly interested. Our great hope today is in the school. Now, I find in our schools a few things that need to be corrected. How under existing conditions to correct them I do not know. Perhaps you may know. There is a theory of education in our country which holds that children in their studies should follow the line of least resistance. Some of you business men have been complaining, and most justly, because of the lack of thoroughness in the training of the boys. I hold that this' leads to moral as well as intellectual weakness. There are more youthful criminals than formerly. Will we venture to say that no blame is to be attached to our schools for this? I would like to enlarge on this, but I have not time to do so. In the government of many of our schools there is something more to be desired. I do not know what is true of all the schools, but I say without any hesitancy, and with a due sense of responsibility for what I am saying, that in some of the schools of this city there is a method of government in vogue which tends to produce lying and deceit. If I had time I would undertake to demonstrate that this is a fair criticism.
Two thousand years ago the Jews knew enough to put the training of boys into the hands of those who could be an example of what it was desired that boys should become. For boys they had male teachers. I yield to no man on earth in my reverence for womanhood. I grant that in the earlier years of a boy's education no one can do better than a woman, but as the boy grows older he needs to come under the influence of a man-he is a male. The boy is a male, and he should be trained by a male to do masculine duties in this world. If we are to have virility in the men of the next generation, if we are to have reverence for truth, for integrity, for high-mindedness, if we are to have all those elements of great moral character which you and I value, I hold, and hold it with all my soul, that we must give more attention to this great matter of governing, teaching, and training the boys of today.
Now, gentlemen, I must hurriedly close. I recognize that Canada's largest wealth is in her people. The quality of the Canadian is superb. I do not believe that there is a better race on earth today, and I believe that our people are superior to most people. When our students go to the great universities of the United States, or of Europe, and are put into competition with men of other countries, it is seen that our sons are equal to the best. It has been discovered, too, that in those powers that lead to industrial development, and commercial expansion and efficiency, our Canadians are not inferior to others. In spite of the youth of our country we have discovered-I was proud of my countrymen, Colonel Mason, when I heard the testimony to the quality of our soldier boys from one of the British officers who served in the South African War, as I sat opposite to him in my hotel at Naples a year ago-we have discovered that our sons on the field of battle, even when alongside of the seasoned troops of our great Empire, are not inferior. Wherever our men have been put to the test they have shown themselves possessed of high mental and moral quality. Gentlemen, this is largely due to our ancestry. We have had a noble ancestry here in Canada, physically, mentally, morally. Unlettered, many of them, hard-working, clean in their hearts and their habits, they have endowed us well. And now my message today is--if I may become the exhorter, for a moment--what we have let us hold; and more, let us patiently and nobly gain.