There is a new spirit amongst our young people

An elderly nonconformist clergyman had hope for the post war world and the new generation.

The Gates of Youth, By Rev. Monro Gibson, M.A., LL.D.

I am now about as far away from the gates of Youth as any one in this world can well be, but the remarkable thing is that the father I go from them, the increasing distance, instead of making them look smaller, makes them seem larger and ever larger – so much so that in my old age I confess to a great and increasing longing to help my young friends to see what a glorious, magnificent life which is opening before them.

The adventure of life begins with the dawn of personal responsibility. In childhood we are in a garden, a Garden of Eden, let us say, sheltered, secluded, happy in its limitations; but sooner or later the gates of Eden open outwards, and the world is all before us with its continents and islands, its seas and oceans, its illimitable possibilities; its fearful risks on the one hand, its great reaches on the other.

Difference between Men and Animals

Herein lies the immense difference between the life of man and that of lower animals. They have each their limits imposed on them by nature. In every case there is growth along certain fixed lines, and up to certain fixed limits; but in no case is there any possibility of a development at all corresponding to that of the boy into a Shakespeare or a Newton, or the girl into a Florence Nightingale or a Catherine Booth; and that altogether irrespective of the infinities and eternities which lie beyond. On the other hand, there is no peril corresponding to that which may transform a noble youth into a Judas or a Kaiser or a sot.

These things being so, there is call for the most earnest thought in passing through these fateful Gates. It will not do simply to yield to the impulse of the moment as if it did not matter much how you set out or what you were aiming at. I do think, however, that there are some warnings which, though very much needed four years ago, are not called for now. For there is a new spirit amongst our young people. There has been a high summons to whole-souled devotion to a great cause, and to that summons there has been a noble response, so that I believe there are very few young men or young women either, who would be willing now to welcome a life of self-indulgence or pleasure-seeking or easy-going mediocracy; and those who would still prefer that kind of thing are too far down to be likely to be reached by any high appeal. The great majority now, I am sure, demand the strenuous life, the life of active service with something in it of adventure or peril, calling for courage, resourcefulness, sacrifice if need be. The cricket pitch and the golf course, the dance and the supper party may still find a corner in life but only a corner. Surely the feeling now is practically universal that to put one’s life into any such things as these is despicable in the last degree. How encouraging it is to find that when there is a call for volunteers to an enterprise which means almost certain death, like the attack ion Zeebrugge or the final Voyage of The Vindictive, every one is not only ready but is disappointed if he cannot be accepted.

A New World

You may say: It is the War that has done this, and we are all very glad that it has come to an end. Yes: but is there any reason why the spirit the War has called forth should come to an end with it? By no means. We are constantly reminded that it is a new world we are entering into, with greater opportunities, nobler prospects and more difficult problems that we have ever known; and there will be a new call for the exercise of all the noblest faculties the War has evoked, and for many others for which even its multiplied demands have not afforded scope and opportunity. Surely it is not without significance that a man who represents so large and in many respects so unpromising a constituency as H. G. Wells has done should even passionately urge the claims of the Kingdom of God upon the service of us all, and especially of our young people who will be the chief agents in the new developments before us. We have all along had before s the call to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,” to make that the great ambition of our lives; but so far it has kindled the souls of only a very small minority. May it not now “catch on,” to use the common phrase, and gather itself the patriotism, the enthusiasm, the devotion, courage and self-sacrifice of the generation now coming on the scene.

Moreover, we are now apparently entering on a new era of democracy whose success will depend not on a small number of super-men or heroes of the Nietschean or Carlylean type to subdue the masses to their will; but on the people, each with his share of responsibility, every one with his full share of opportunity, with education that will open up fields of service to every variety of talent, and with institutions that will give full scope for its exercise. Even as things have been in the world, our young people have had much encouragement to put forth every effort in the beginning of life to train their powers for usefulness; but it is more worth while now than ever it was before. In the old Book of Proverbs it is written, “A man’s gift maketh room for him.” True now in a fuller sense than when the wise man wrote it down, it will still be more so in the days that are coming. Therefore I would congratulate our young people especially on the prospect before them, entering on life in times like these which are more full of portent and of promise than even those of which the poet Wordsworth wrote:

“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven.”

It is indeed true as it always was, that “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life”; but now that there is this new spirit in the land for enduring hardness, for concentration of energy, for ventures of faith and courage, and now that the life which is set before us, which and full as it has always been, promises to be richer and fuller than ever, we may hope that it will no longer be true that “few there be that find it,” but that multitudes of our young people, young men and young women, will press through the gates into the new life.

Newbury and Thatcham Congregational Magazine, May 1919 (D/N32/12/1/1/1)