[N.B. This is the first installment of The First World War in 100 Documents — I’ll put together a hub for all of them as more begin to appear. My intention is to post two or three per week, but we’ll see how it all pans out.]
Most of the documents in this series will have considerably more background and explanation provided for them here than this one does. In the case of the Declaration, however, I will instead take the liberty of linking to my existing article on the subject at Oxford’s WW1C blog.
In brief, the Authors’ Declaration of Sept. 1914 was a manifesto, signed by fifty-three of the most prominent British novelists, poets, dramatists and scholars, which declared in unambiguous terms that the German invasion of Belgium the previous month had been a crime, and that Britain “could not without dishonour have refused to take part in the present war.” The Declaration was one of the earliest efforts of the nascent War Propaganda Bureau to craft a coherent intellectual message in support of the war effort.
The text of the Declaration follows:
The undersigned writers, comprising among them men of the most divergent political and social views, some of them having been for years ardent champions of good-will toward Germany, and many of them extreme advocates of peace, are nevertheless agreed that Great Britain could not without dishonor have refused to take part in the present war. No one can read the full diplomatic correspondence published in the “White Paper” without seeing that the British representatives were throughout laboring whole-heartedly to preserve the peace of Europe, and that their conciliatory efforts were cordially received by both France and Russia.
When these efforts failed Great Britain had still no direct quarrel with any power. She was eventually compelled to take up arms because, together with France, Germany, and Austria, she had solemnly pledged herself to maintain the neutrality of Belgium. As soon as danger to that neutrality arose she questioned both France and Germany as to their intentions. France immediately renewed her pledge not to violate Belgian neutrality; Germany refused to answer, and soon made all answer needless by her actions. Without even the pretense of a grievance against Belgium she made war on the weak and unoffending country she had undertaken to protect, and has since carried out her invasion with a calculated and ingenious ferocity which has raised questions other and no less grave than that of the willful disregard of treaties.
When Belgium in her dire need appealed to Great Britain to carry out her pledge, that country’s course was clear. She had either to break faith, letting the sanctity of treaties and the rights of small nations count for nothing before the threat of naked force, or she had to fight. She did not hesitate, and we trust she will not lay down arms till Belgium’s integrity is restored and her wrongs redressed.
The treaty with Belgium made our duty clear, but many of us feel that, even if Belgium had not been involved, it would have been impossible for Great Britain to stand aside while France was dragged into war and destroyed. To permit the ruin of France would be a crime against liberty and civilization. Even those of us who question the wisdom of a policy of Continental ententes or alliances refuse to see France struck down by a foul blow dealt in violation of a treaty.
We observe that various German apologists, official and semi-official, admit that their country had been false to its pledged word, and dwell almost with pride on the “frightfulness” of the examples by which it has sought to spread terror in Belgium, but they excuse all these proceedings by a strange and novel plea. German culture and civilization are so superior to those of other nations that all steps taken to assert them are more than justified, and the destiny of Germany to be the dominating force in Europe and the world is so manifest that ordinary rules of morality do not hold in her case, but actions are good or bad simply as they help or hinder the accomplishment of that destiny.
These views, inculcated upon the present generation of Germans by many celebrated historians and teachers, seem to us both dangerous and insane. Many of us have dear friends in Germany, many of us regard German culture with the highest respect and gratitude; but we cannot admit that any nation has the right by brute force to impose its culture upon other nations, nor that the iron military bureaucracy of Prussia represents a higher form of human society than the free Constitutions of Western Europe.
Whatever the world destiny of Germany may be, we in Great Britain are ourselves conscious of a destiny and a duty. That destiny and duty, alike for us and for all the English-speaking race, call upon us to uphold the rule of common justice between civilized peoples, to defend the rights of small nations, and to maintain the free and law-abiding ideals of Western Europe against the rule of “Blood and Iron” and the domination of the whole Continent by a military caste.
For these reasons and others the undersigned feel bound to support the cause of the Allies with all their strength, with a full conviction of its righteousness, and with a deep sense of its vital import to the future of the world.
WHO’S WHO AMONG THE SIGNERS.
WILLIAM ARCHER, dramatic critic and editor of Ibsen’s works, author of “Life of Macready,” “Real Conversations,” “The Great Analysis,” and (with Granville Barker) “A National Theatre.”
H. GRANVILLE BARKER, actor, dramatist, and manager, shares with his wife management of the Kingsway Theatre, London; author of “The Voysey Inheritance,” and (with Laurence Housman) “Prunella.”
SIR JAMES MATTHEW BARRIE, creator of “Sentimental Tommy” and “Peter Pan,” famous for his sympathetic studies of Scotch life and his fantastic comedies.
HILAIRE BELLOC, best known as a writer on history, politics, and economics; a recognized authority on the French Revolution.
ARNOLD BENNETT, author of many popular realistic studies of English provincial life, including “Clayhanger” and “Hilda Lessways.”
ARTHUR CHRISTOPHER BENSON, chiefly known for “From a College Window,” “Beside Still Waters,” and other volumes of essays.
EDWARD FREDERIC BENSON, brother of the preceding, author of many novels of modern life, including “Dodo.”
VERY REV. MONSIGNOR ROBERT HUGH BENSON, the youngest of the three famous Benson brothers. Besides numerous devotional and theological works, Monsignor Benson has written several widely appreciated historical novels.
LAWRENCE BINYON, author of many lyrics and poetic dramas, Assistant Keeper in the British Museum, in charge of Oriental Prints and Drawings.
ANDREW CECIL BRADLEY, critic, sometime Professor of Poetry at Oxford University, author of a standard work on Shakespeare.
ROBERT BRIDGES, Poet-Laureate. Prominent as a physician before his poetry brought him the high honor he now enjoys.
HALL CAINE, one of the most popular of contemporary novelists.
R.C. CARTON, dramatist, author of “Lord and Lady Algy” and “A White Elephant.”
CHARLES HADDON CHAMBERS, dramatist, author of “John a Dreams,” part author of “The Fatal Card.”
GILBERT K. CHESTERTON, essayist, novelist, poet; defender of orthodox thought by unorthodox methods.
HUBERT HENRY DAVIES, dramatist, author of “The Mollusc” and “A Single Man.”
SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE, creator of “Sherlock Holmes.”
HERBERT ALBERT LAURENS FISHER, Vice Chancellor of Sheffield University, author of “The Mediaeval Empire,” “Napoleon Bonaparte,” and other historical works.
JOHN GALSWORTHY, a novelist and dramatist who has come into great prominence during the last five years, his plays, “Strife” and “Justice,” and his novel, “The Dark Flower,” being widely known.
ANSTEY GUTHRIE, (F. ANSTEY,) author of “The Brass Bottle,” “The Talking Horse,” and other fantastic and humorous tales.
SIR HENRY RIDER HAGGARD, author of many widely read romances, among them being “She.”
THOMAS HARDY, generally considered to be the greatest living English novelist.
JANE ELLEN HARRISON, sometime Fellow and Lecturer at Newnham College, Cambridge University; writer of many standard works on classical religion, literature, and life.
ANTHONY HOPE HAWKINS, (ANTHONY HOPE,) author of popular historical romance and sketches of modern society, including “The Prisoner of Zenda.”
MAURICE HEWLETT, poet and romantic novelist, author of “Earthworks Out of Tuscany” and other mediaeval tales.
ROBERT HICHENS, novelist, author of “The Garden of Allah,” “Bella Donna,” and other stories.
JEROME K. JEROME, humorist, famous for “Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow” and the “Three Men” series, and for his play “The Passing of the Third Floor Back.”
HENRY ARTHUR JONES, dramatist, author of “The Silver King,” “The Hypocrites,” and other plays.
RUDYARD KIPLING needs no introduction to people who read the English language.
WILLIAM J. LOCKE, author of “The Morals of Marcus,” “Septimus,” and “The Beloved Vagabond,” which have been made into successful plays.
EDWARD VERRAL LUCAS, associate editor of Punch and editor of several popular anthologies, author of “A Wanderer in Holland.”
JOHN WILLIAM MACKAIL, Professor of Poetry at Oxford University, author and editor of many volumes dealing with ancient Greek and Roman literature.
JOHN MASEFIELD, known chiefly for his long poems of life among the British poor.
ALFRED EDWARD WOODLEY MASON, writer of romantic novels, of which “The Four Feathers” and “The Turnstile” are perhaps the best known, and of several popular dramas.
GILBERT MURRAY, Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford University since 1908, editor and translator of Greek classics, perhaps the greatest Greek scholar now living.
HENRY NEWBOLT, “laureate of the British Navy,” author of “Drake’s Drum” and many other songs.
BARRY PAIN, author of “Eliza” and other novels and short stories of adventure, of many well-known parodies and poems.
SIR GILBERT PARKER, of Canadian birth, poet and author of romantic novels, including “The Judgment House,” and “The Right of Way.”
EDEN PHILLPOTTS, realistic novelist, noted for his exact portraits of the English rustic, author of “Down Dartmoor Way.”
SIR ARTHUR WING PINERO, one of the most popular of living dramatists. His plays include “Sweet Lavender” and “The Second Mrs. Tanqueray.”
SIR ARTHUR QUILLER-COUCH, Professor of English Literature at Cambridge University, poet, novelist, and writer of short stories.
SIR OWEN SEAMAN, since 1906 editor of Punch, writer of parodies and light verse.
GEORGE R. SIMS, journalist, poet, and author of many popular dramas, including “The Lights of London,” “Two Little Vagabonds,” and “Harbour Lights.”
MAY SINCLAIR, writer of novels dealing with modern moral problems, “The Divine Fire” and “The Combined Maze” being best known.
FLORA ANNIE STEEL, author of “Tales from the Punjab,” “On the Face of the Waters,” “A Prince of Dreamers,” and other novels and short stories, most of which deal with life in India.
ALFRED SUTRO, dramatist, author of “The Walls of Jericho,” “The Barrier,” and other plays of modern society.”
GEORGE MACAULAY TREVELYAN, late Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge; author of “England Under the Stuarts,” and other historical and biographical works.
RT. HON. GEORGE OTTO TREVELYAN, historian, biographer of Macaulay, and author of a four-volume work on the American Revolution.
HUMPHRY WARD, journalist and author, sometime Fellow of Brasenose College, editor of several biographical and historical works.
MARY A. WARD, (Mrs. HUMPHRY WARD,) best known of contemporary women novelists; her first success was “Robert Elsmere.”
H.G. WELLS, novelist, author of “Tono Bungay” and “Ann Veronica.”
MARGARET L. WOODS, poet; her “Wild Justice” and “The Invader” have placed her in the front rank.
ISRAEL ZANGWILL, novelist, poet, dramatist, interpreter of the modern Jewish spirit.
The next installment in this series will be up later this week! Be sure to check in again closer to Friday.