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CHAPTER VI.

The peculiar significance of a National Standard and Ensign.

Description of the British and Irish Ensign, known as the Union Flag.—The emotion felt on beholding it in foreign countries, or on the ocean.-Serious reflections on using the figure of the Cross in modern bloody battles.—Reasons which may be assigned for the display of the Standard of the Cross by Christian nations. The subject is worthy of investigation. -An inquiry into the right and authority for the display of the Cross on National Banners.—Tested by the principles of Heraldry. - Various kinds of Banners. Strictness of the claim of Heraldry.—The assumption of the War Cross is not borne out by Heraldry.—The Crusades were dishonouring to the Cross in its humiliation by the Crescent.—The banner of the Cross is displayed by the European nations as a banner of Assumption or Pretence.—The question is one connected with the independence of nations, and with the Civil and Spiritual liberties of mankind. - The pretensions of the Bishop of Rome as a political and military potentate should be repelled, and put down by physical force.

Any object whatever that may be selected by a nation as the visible and acknowledged sign or token of its independence, power, and honour, becomes of great significance and interest to other peoples; and when this sign is publicly displayed by any person holding official authority from that nation, in any part of the world, or over any vessel or territory, as a mark of identity and national connection, it forms a shield of protection to all who come under it, the nation being pledged to the humblest individual who claims its

shelter. Hence a national flag or sign when thus displayed is held sacred, like the person of an ambassador, and any outrage or insult offered to it is resented by the nation, as if a blow were directly aimed at its honour, and, at whatever cost or consequences, the insult must be redressed. The crown is the symbol of royalty and monarchical authority, and as a personal property with the association of locality, it does not represent the nation, and by no means conveys the ideas of dignity and power impressed on the national standard and ensign.

Among the millions of persons who year after year gaze at the British ensign as it spreads its ample folds to the breeze or the gale, how few are there who are aware, or who remember, that those rectangular and diagonal lines of red, blue, and white, which form such an agreeable contrast in colours, and such symmetrical forms on the noble ensign, represent the combined figures of the cross upon which the Saviour died, and of that on which it is supposed one of his apostles was put to death.

The investigation into, and the discussion of, such a subject as that of the war cross, and of national banners, is calculated to excite the imagination and to rouse enthusiasm. The objective nature of man is appealed to in such a discussion, and the difficulty will be to treat the subject calmly and philosophically, and to subdue the emotions that strive for expression.

The respect and honour which are demanded for the British standard and ensign are most cheerfully and gratefully tendered on thus entering on the subject. It is not from the walls of a fortress at home, or from the mast-head of vessels in a river or harbour, or from the holiday parade of troops with their colours flying, that a person perceives the real beauty, and power, and

grandeur which that ensign is capable of impressing on the mind of the beholder. It is on the shores of distant regions of the globe that the Briton is reminded of his home and all its associations, by the sight of the flag languidly moving from its staff in the lull of the tropical breeze, or gloriously spread out in all its beauty of proportion and colours. But still more expressive does it look on the far solitary ocean, where the voyager has been long beating his weary course against adverse winds in high northern or southern latitudes, or bounding before the trade winds, in joyful expectation when he perceives the distant vessel preparing to hoist her colours. The excitement of that moment can never be forgotten, nor can its emotions, and the mental visions, seen in the ensign! The eyes of the voyager, that had so long ranged the horizon, and ached, for want of some object on which to rest and relieve the monotony of sea and sky, are fixed with delight on the varied coloured folds as they stream in the wind; and this voyager, although he may be like a weed torn from an ocean rock, and tossed on the waters, feels of importance in the presence of the symbol of the power and greatness of his country. After this homage of feeling and gratitude to the British national ensign, we will proceed to the task of investigating the morals and philosophy contained in this subject ; and we first propose to inquire into the right and title which Christian nations may have to show for the use and display of the cross in national banners and ensigns of war.

As far as we are able to discern, the field of investigation now entered is unexplored and untrodden, and we therefore claim it

as our own.

The national banner and flag of England, by itself, consists of the figure of a large red cross, on a white

ground or field; that of Scotland is formed of a diagonal or saltier cross, known as Saint Andrew's cross, of white, on a blue ground or field ; that of Ireland, of a red saltier cross, on a white field. These three flags or ensigns united into one, form that wellknown banner called the Union Flag, representing the three nations or political divisions of the kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

We have described the feelings of confidence and joy on seeing the British ensign in certain places and under peculiar circumstances, in a period of universal peace. But how different are the feelings and strong the emotions on beholding it in a time of war! It will still during war carry confidence and hope to the mind of the Briton ; but in other peoples, opposed as enemies, it will raise fear or terror, mixed with feelings of hatred and revenge. Other nations, besides the British, inscribe the Christian cross on their banners, and therefore the remarks which we make are for general application, although we select the British ensign for special illustration.

It is strange and melancholy to reflect that a symbol, the emblem of peace and goodwill to men on earth, should be displayed in the present age by Christian nations, in the turmoil and destruction of wars. In battle, wherever the struggle is the severest, and the harsh passions the strongest, and the slaughter the greatest, there the banner of the cross is uplifted and stained with blood. This is a very grave and important subject, affecting the peace of nations and the civilization of mankind; but we dare say that among all the inhabitants of the countries under the ensign of the cross, very few persons have ever given the subject serious consideration, and the man who first deals with it has consequently the greater difficulty to encounter,

and the greater responsibility to incur. He who died upon the cross, said of the object of his mission, “The Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them."*

In bringing this subject under review, we shall anticipate various opinions which may be formed against it. Some people may regard the whole matter of national ensigns and war signals as one of taste or expediency, to be regulated by the colour and form of military dress, or they may consider the matter altogether as one of indifference, in which they cannot bring themselves to take an interest. Others, again, seeing that the use of the cross in national banners is of great antiquity, may say, that it has become part of the political and military system of the country, and that, be it right or wrong, it would be a serious innovation to change it now; others, again, may argue, that as the British nation is professedly and constitutionally a Christian nation, they cannot perceive any objection to or impiety in the display of the sign of the cross, in its banners and symbols, either during peace or war; and even those who really have not been aware of the composition and origin of the Union flag, may rest satisfied with the fact, that as the propriety of it has never been publicly questioned, they may presume that there were sound reasons for the adoption of the cross as the national standard, and that those reasons still remain in force. I thus anticipate the arguments, both positive and negative, that may be adduced for the cross inscribed upon the banners of nations.

As a question of Christian archæology, it is worthy of investigation, and as a section of the history of the human mind, it is also deserving of particular notice; and a part of that history will be found in the records

* Luke ix. 56.

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