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10. Old Maids
Time wore on, and spring matured. The surface of England began to look
pleasant: her fields grew green, her hills fresh, her gardens blooming; but at
heart she was no better. Still her poor were wretched, still their employers were
harassed. Commerce, in some of its branches, seemed threatened with
paralysis, for the war continued; England's blood was shed and her wealth
lavished: all, it seemed, to attain most inadequate ends. Some tidings there were
indeed occasionally of successes in the Peninsula, but these came in slowly;
long intervals occurred between, in which no note was heard but the insolent
self-felicitations of Bonaparte on his continued triumphs. Those who suffered
from the results of the war felt this tedious, and - as they thought - hopeless,
struggle against what their fears or their interests taught them to regard as an
invincible power, most insufferable: they demanded peace on any terms: men
like Yorke and Moore - and there were thousands whom the war placed where it
placed them, shuddering on the verge of bankruptcy - insisted on peace with the
energy of desperation.
They held meetings; they made speeches; they got up petitions to extort this
boon: on what terms it was made they cared not.
All men, taken singly, are more or less selfish; and taken in bodies they are
intensely so. The British merchant is no exception to this rule: the mercantile
classes illustrate it strikingly. These classes certainly think too exclusively of
making money: they are too oblivious of every national consideration but that of
extending England's (i.e., their own) commerce. Chivalrous feeling,
disinterestedness, pride in honour, is too dead in their hearts. A land ruled by
them alone would too often make ignominious submission - not at all from the
motives Christ teaches, but rather from those Mammon instils. During the late
war, the tradesmen of England would have endured buffets from the French on
the right cheek and on the left; their cloak they would have given to Napoleon,
and then have politely offered him their coat also, nor would they have withheld
their waistcoat if urged: they would have prayed permission only to retain their
one other garment, for the sake of the purse in its pocket. Not one spark of spirit,
not one symptom of resistance would they have shown till the hand of the
Corsican bandit had grasped that beloved purse: then, perhaps, transfigured at
once into British bull-dogs, they would have sprung at the robber's throat, and
there they would have fastened, and there hung - inveterate, insatiable, till the
treasure had been restored. Tradesmen, when they speak against war, always
profess to hate it because it is a bloody and barbarous proceeding: you would
think, to hear them talk, that they are peculiarly civilised - especially gentle and
kindly of disposition to their fellow-men. This is not the case. Many of them are
extremely narrow and cold-hearted, have no good feeling for any class but their
own, are distant - even hostile to all others; call them useless; seem to question
their right to exist; seem to grudge them the very air they breathe, and to think
the circumstance of their eating, drinking, and living in decent houses, quite
unjustifiable. They do not know what others do in the way of helping, pleasing, or