The Queen is now safely lodged at Mentone. Although the political outlook is not very bright, there is pretty sure to be a good solid majority to vote a dowry for Prince Leopold's bride; and so long as royalty is safe it does not much matter what becomes of the people. That dreadful Bradlaugh is gagged; he cannot open his mouth in the House of Commons against perpetual pensions or royal grants. The interests of monarchy are in no immediate peril, and so the Queen is off to Mentone.
Now she is gone, and the loyal hubbub has subsided, it is just the time to consider her late "providential escape" from the bullet which was never fired at her.
What is the meaning of providential? God does all or nothing. There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow, as well as in the fall of empires. In that case everything is providential. But this is not the ordinary view. When a railway accident occurs those who do not come to grief ascribe their preservation to Providence. Who then is responsible for the fate of those who perish? Centuries ago Christians would have answered, "the Devil." Now they give no answer at all, but treat the question as frivolous or profane.
Thomas Cooper, in his Autobiography, says that the perfecting touch was given to his conversion by an interposition of God. During a collision, the carriage in which he sat was lifted clean on to another line of rails, and thus escaped the fate of the other carriages, which were broken to pieces. Pious Thomas recognised at once the finger of God, and he there and then fell on his knees and offered up a thanksgiving. He was too vain to carry his argument out to its logical end. Why did the Lord protect him, and not his fellow-travellers? Was he of more importance than any of the others? And why, if it was right to thank God for saving Thomas Cooper, would it be wrong to curse him for smashing all the rest?
This superstition of Providence is dying out. Common people are gradually being left to the laws of Nature. If a workhouse were to catch on fire, no one would speak of those who escaped the flames as providentially saved. God does not look after the welfare of paupers; nor is it likely that he would pluck a charwoman's brat out of the fire if it tumbled in during her absence. Such interpositions are absurd. But with kings, queens, princes, princesses, and big nobs in general, the case is different. God looks after the quality. He stretches forth his hand to save them from danger, from the pestilence that walketh by day and the terror that walketh by night. And his worshippers take just the same view of the "swells." When the Queen came to London, a few weeks ago, one of her mounted attendants was thrown and badly hurt; and the next day one of the loyal Tory papers reported that her Majesty had completely recovered from the accident to her outrider!
But if the Lord overlooks the great ones of the earth, why is he not impartial? He did not turn aside Guiteau's bullet, nor did he answer the prayers of a whole nation on its knees. President Garfield was allowed to die after a long agony. Poor Mrs. Garfield believed up to the very last minute that God would interpose and save her husband. But he never did. Why was he so indifferent in this case? Was it because Garfield was a President instead of a King, the elected leader of free men instead of the hereditary ruler of political slaves? Informer Newdegate would say so. In his opinion God Almighty hates Republicans. Yet the Bible clearly shows that the Lord is opposed to monarchy. He gave his chosen people a king as a punishment, after plainly telling them what an evil they had sought; and there is perhaps a covert irony in the story of Saul, the son of Kish, who went to seek his father's asses and found instead a nation of subjects—two-legged asses, who begged him to mount them and ride.
Take another case. Why did God permit the Nihilists to assassinate the late Czar of Russia? All their previous plots had failed. Why was the last plot allowed to succeed? There is only one answer. God had nothing to do with any of them, and the last succeeded because it was better devised and more carefully executed. If God protected the Czar against their former attempts, they were too many for him in the end; that is, they defeated Omnipotence—an absurdity too flagrant for any sane man to believe.
Why should God care for princes more than for peasants, for queens more than for washerwomen? There is no difference in their compositions; they are all made of the same flesh and blood. The very book these loyal gushers call the Word of God declares that he is no respecter of persons. What are the distinctions of rank and wealth? Mere nothings. Look down from an altitude of a thousand feet, and an emperor and his subjects shall appear equally small; and what are even a thousand feet in the infinite universe? Nay, strip them of all their fictions of dress; reduce them to the same condition of featherless bipeds; and you shall find the forms of strength or beauty, and the power of brain, impartially distributed by Nature, who is the truest democrat, who raises her Shakespeares from the lowest strata of society, and laughs to scorn the pride of palaces and thrones.
Providence is an absurdity, a superstitious relic of the ignorant past. Sensible men disbelieve it, and scientists laugh it to scorn. Our very moral sense revolts against it. Why should God help a few of his children and neglect all the others? Explosions happen in mines, and scores of honest industrious men, doing the rough work of the world and winning bread for wife and child, are blown to atoms or hurled into shapeless death. God does not help them, and tears moisten the dry bread of half-starved widows and orphans. Sailors on the mighty deep go down with uplifted hands, or slowly gaze their life away on the merciless heavens. The mother bends over her dying child, the first flower of her wedded love, the sweetest hope of her life. She is rigid with despair, and in her hot tearless eyes there dwells a dumb misery that would touch a heart of stone. But God does not help, the death-curtain falls, and darkness reigns where all was light.
Who has the audacity to say that the God who will not aid a mother in the death-chamber shelters the Queen upon her throne? It is an insult to reason and a ghastly mockery of justice. The impartiality of Nature is better than the mercy of such a God.