An empire the size of Europe setting out on her career of world history is a phenomenon of vast and deep enough import to stir to national consciousness the slumbering spirit of any people. Yet when you come to trace when and where national consciousness awakened, it is like following a river back from the ocean to its mountain springs. From the silt borne down on the flood-tide you can guess the fertile plains watered and far above the fertile plains, regions of eternal snow and glacial torrent warring turbulently through the adamantine rocks. You can guess the eternal striving, the forward rush and the throwback that have carved a way through the solid rocks; but until you have followed the river to its source and tried to stem its current you can not know.
So of peoples and nations.
Fifty years ago, as far as world affairs were concerned, Japan did not exist. Came national consciousness, and Japan rose like a star dominating the Orient. A hundred years ago Germany did not exist. Came national consciousness welding chaotic principalities into unity, and the mailed fist of the empire became a menace before which Europe quailed. So of China with the ferment of freedom leavening the whole. So of the United States with the Civil War blending into a union the diversities of a continent. When you come to consider the birth of national consciousness in Canada, you do not find the germ of an ambition to dominate, as in Japan and Germany. Nor do you find a fight for freedom. Canada has always been free—free as the birds of passage that winged above the canoe of the first voyageur who pointed his craft up the St. Lawrence for the Pacific; but what you do find from the very first is a fight for national existence; and when the fight was won, Canada arose like a wrestler with consciousness of strength for new destiny.
Categories: English Literature