100D #5 | Yeats Refuses to Declare

20 Oct

During the course of reading a marvelous new volume just out this year from the Bodleian Library — From Downing Street to the Trenches: First-Hand Accounts from the Great War, 1914-1916 — I was thrilled to discover something that sheds another sliver of light onto the matter of the Authors’ Declaration of 1914.

It comes in the form of a letter to the eminent classicist Sir Gilbert Murray from the influential Irish poet W.B. Yeats.  I think it is a mark of the direction in which history has unfolded that Yeats should need no contextualizing hyperlink while Murray surely does, but in their time it was Murray who was the titan and Yeats still the rising star.  In this letter, we discover that Yeats had been asked by Murray to endorse the Authors’ Declaration with his signature — but Yeats refused.

Here is the text of that letter, dated 15 September 1914:

Dear Murray,

No.  I am sorry, but No.  I long for the defeat of the Germans but your manifesto reads like an extract from the newspapers, and newspapers are liars.  What have we novelists, poets, whatever we are, to do with them?

First: I don’t know whether England or Germany brought on this war, and you don’t.  Diplomatic documents published in the White Book deal with matters of form.  The question is whether Germany has as England believes been arming for years to wage war on England, or whether as Germany believes, England has surrounded her with hostile alliances waiting their moment to attack, through which she had to force her way at the first likely moment.  That knowledge will be kept by secret diplomacy for a good many years to come.

Second: I cannot see who this document is going to influence.  It has every sign of its origin ‘drawn up to include as many people as possible’ that is to say to be something which nobody will wholeheartedly believe, and which looks all its insincerity.  If a manifesto is to move anybody the man who made it must at least believe in it.  I would gladly join with you if you would get up a declaration against secret diplomacy when the time comes, or get up a manifesto demanding some responsible investigation of German outrages.  The present campaign may result in reprisals that will make this war more shameful than that of the Balkans.

There should be no anonymous charges, and when the war is over the whole question of atrocities by whatever nation committed should be sifted out by the Hague or some other tribunal.  It doesn’t seem possible to doubt the atrocities in many cases, but one hopes that investigation would prove that great numbers of German commanders and soldiers have behaved with humanity.  I gather from stray allusions in the Press that the Germans are carrying on an atrocity campaign not only against the Belgians but against the French and English.

Yours sincerely

WB Yeats.

There is much in this that will already seem familiar to the anti-propagandist reader of the modern age — the skepticism of newspaper accounts, the condemnation of ‘secret diplomacy’, the dismissal of the Declaration‘s power on account of its seeming banality.  Yeats, in this letter, is very much a man ahead of his time.

Still, it is possible to be too much ahead of one’s time.  Modern scholarship — in volumes like John Horne and Alan Kramer’s German Atrocities 1914 (2001), Jeff Lipkes’ Rehearsals (2007), and Alan Kramer’s Dynamic of Destruction (2007) — has shown that the vicious destruction of Belgium was all too real an event, and Yeats would have stood upon firm ground in condemning it if his qualms about the manifesto in question had been less fervent.

This is not a rarity, though.  Many at the time were suspicious of claims focused on German atrocities in Belgium, believing them to be likely propaganda inventions.  This notion was further cemented in the years following the war, with volumes like Irene Cooper Willis’ England’s Holy War (1928) and Arthur Ponsonby’s Falsehood in War-Time (1928) insisting that such claims were the fatuous inventions of Allied propagandists.  History has proven otherwise, but this only lends further flavour to Yeats’ contemporary refusal.

The Battles of Coronel and the Falkland Islands

25 Jul

Apart from Jutland, the war is not often noted for its naval battles. This is largely due to most of the German surface navy having spent the war under blockade, with the most wide-ranging naval operations instead being conducted by the German U-Boat fleet.

There was one independent squadron operating elsewhere at the outbreak of the war: Admiral Maximilian von Spee‘s German East Asia Squadron, which had been based out of Tsingtao in China. With the declaration of war, however, and Japan’s decision to enter on the side of Great Britain, the then-at-sea squadron could not return to port and was forced to flee. Vastly outnumbered and with few options (other German colonies and ports in the area having been swiftly seized), von Spee decided to take his ships into the Atlantic to subject Allied shipping to their predations until better opportunities came along. It was also hoped that they’d be able to dock at Valparaiso in Chile to refuel and rearm.

The Royal Navy was greatly concerned by the threat von Spee’s squadron posed to the Pacific theatre, but also with the above possibility of it making its way around the Cape to enter the Atlantic. Rear-Admiral Christopher Cradock‘s South Atlantic Squadron was given orders to take up the hunt. Cradock was given considerable operational leeway, and decided that it would be best to split the squadron into two patrols, the one to sail up and down the western coast of Chile from the Cape to Valparaiso, the other to patrol the southern coast of Argentina. Cradock and his flagship, HMS Good Hope, accompanied the western patrol — both were going to their death.

The western patrol (the cruisers Good Hope, Monmouth, Glasgow, and six other lighter ships of varying types) encountered von Spee’s squadron off the island of Coronel on Nov. 1st, 1914, and Cradock gave the order to engage. The gathering darkness played to German advantage, however, as did their more modern ships; by the time the battle was over, Good Hope, Monmouth and 1600 British sailors lay on the ocean floor — no survivors. Von Spee’s squadron, by comparison, suffered fewer than ten wounded and no fatalities at all. They steamed into Valparaiso as planned. Von Spee seemed deeply troubled by his success — he was of the type to respect a gallant action, even from an enemy, and to mourn a wholly lop-sided victory.

Once news reached England of the defeat, several more ships were detached from the North Sea blockade and the Home Fleet and sent to reinforce what was left of Cradock’s squadron. The new squadron, which added to it HMS Danger, Invincible and Inflexible, came under the command of the marvelously named Vice-Admiral Doveton Sturdee, an accomplished sailor and administrator who had recently served as the Chief of Staff at the Admiralty. Nevertheless, he had something of a rivalry with Sir John Fisher, then First Sea Lord, and Fisher had seen this as an opportunity too get Sturdee out of the way. Little did he know that his rival would return covered in glory.

In any event, Sturdee and his men were ready for battle. They found it — by accident — on Dec. 8th, 1914.

The British squadron was in harbour at Stanley in the Falkland Islands on the 8th, having only just arrived there the previous morning. There was considerable surprise when von Spee’s squadron unexpectedly came into view from the south. It’s hard to say for sure, but the best evidence we have is that von Spee had hoped to attack Stanley before the British squadron arrive and then slip off northward; their meeting on the 8th was a result of delays for the one party and a mostly speedy crossing for the other. Whatever the case, they had met — something had to be done.

Sturdee, commanding from his flagship Invincible, ordered his squadron to disembark, while fire from the shore kept von Spee’s ships from being able to approach the island at sufficient distance to shell their opponents in port. Realizing the gamble had failed, von Spee turned his squadron north-east and tried to race off into the Atlantic; by 1PM, the British had caught up.

What happened next was something in the way of a massacre, though not an easy-going one for all that. The Germans were outnumbered, outmanned, and outgunned, and their enemies were out for revenge, but having made it this far they were not about to go down without a fight. Over the course of the next few hours the Germans kept up an intensity of fire that shocked their British counterparts, buying crucial time through von Spee’s skillful maneuvering of the squadron with the shifting winds to always keep the British funnel smoke obscuring their own targeting. Invincible and Inflexible came under fire from the longer-ranged German guns, and it would take some time to close the gap.

But it was closed, and the results were as catastrophic for von Spee’s squadron as his earlier action had been for Cradock’s. Von Spee’s flagship Scharnhorst was the first to go down, taking the admiral, his two sons and every other soul aboard with her. The rest of the squadron swiftly followed suit, with only one cruiser, the Dresden, being able to escape — she would be driven into hiding after intense pursuit and eventually scuttled three months later. While the British suffered ten fatalities as a consequence of the action, the Germans lost 1900 men (with an additional 200 taken prisoner), six ships, a daring and accomplished admiral, and the ability to ever again effectively conduct surface operations in the Atlantic. The war was only four months old.

The last of the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau [William Lionel Wyllie c. 1918]

The battle is an interesting one to me because of all the things it was not: no stagnation in the trenches, no repeated folly, no gross miscalculations. The worst that can be laid at the feet of those involved is misfortune. Even more than this, in a war that was so often marked by the disproportionate (even appalling) results achieved by tactics involving nascent technologies, the Battle of the Falkland Islands was nothing more or less than a squadron action, gun upon gun, in the oldest traditions of the navies involved. No radar, no aircraft, no submarines, no mines. Everything involved but the ships themselves would not have been out of place in the age of Lord Nelson, and the victory at the Falklands — particularly after the disaster at Coronel — was seen as a sign that the Royal Navy’s age-old supremacy had at last been reasserted.  Mark Connolly of the University of Kent provided a spectacular keynote about the battle’s commemorative history at the 2011 The Great War: From History to Memory conference in London, ON.  The conference’s proceedings no longer seem to be online, so no link to that is possible at this time — in a very real sense, you had to be there.

I’m happy to report that the good people at Osprey have finally put out a volume about these events — Coronel and Falklands 1914; Duel in the South Atlantic (2012). Those who would like to know more will find it an accessible and comprehensive work.

100D #4 | The Recruitment Ads of Sir Hedley Le Bas

3 Jun

The fourth installment of my ongoing series, The First World War in 100 Documents, is now available at Oxford’s WW1C blog.  In it — inspired by the contents of yet another gift book — I take a look at some of the recruitment ads devised by the prolific Sir Hedley Le Bas (1868 – 1926).  One such ad appears below:

five questions better

The full piece refers to others as well, and looks back as well to a recruitment ad from 1802 calling upon the men of Manchester to join the army and travel at once to Gibraltar.  Be sure to click through to check it out.

100D #3 | Advertising King Albert’s Book

30 May

The latest installment in this series has been cross-posted at Oxford’s WW1C blog — you can check it out here.  An excerpt:

The ad is not so much a tantalizing description of the book as it is an exercise in propagandistic persuasion.  The emphatic declaration at the ad’s outset that the book will “help put on record for all time the true and only reason for which the Allies have drawn the sword” reads like a press release from the agency with which this blog shares its name — and may very well actually have been, given that Hall Caine had been enthusiastically involved with the Bureau from its very inception.

A great deal of rhetorical effort is expended in emphasizing the volume’s unique and international character.  It could be “the most remarkable production that has ever issued from the press” — “a book to treasure now, and to hand down to one’s children,” because “perhaps nothing of its kind will ever appear again.”  This has turned out to be somewhat true; we have many imperfect analogues to the “gift book” craze in the modern day (like celebrity telethons, perhaps, or the Live Aid concert), but not to the same extent and with the same dizzying popularity as these volumes achieved at the turn of the 20th century.  The volume was certainly quite unique in its comprehensive breadth, as we’ve already seen, but it was its international flair — and the spirit of co-operation between “civilized” nations that it promoted — that was a primary focus.

I’ll be taking a look at King Albert’s Book itself in an upcoming installment, so stay tuned (so to speak).

100D #2 | The Manifesto of the Ninety-Three

15 May

[This is the second installment in a new ongoing series — The First World War in 100 Documents; I will create a sort of central hub for them as they begin to accumulate.]

The publication and wide-scale public distribution of the Authors’ Declaration prepared by Wellington House in September of 1914 had certain consequences, and one of them was a more or less direct rebuke.  The Declaration had made many claims about the infamous actions undertaken by the German army in Belgium during its invasion of that country in August, and — in spite of it having likely been more prudent to have not dignified them with a response — German authorities swiftly drafted a counter-manifesto.

The origins of the document that followed can be found in the planning of certain high-ranking officers in the Navy, with the enthusiastic participation of German propagandists and intelligentsia.  The task of drafting the manifesto itself fell to the playwright Ludwig Fulda, a gifted and inventive writer whose star has fallen considerably in the present day in spite of a number of fascinating works to his credit and a tragic end that might have been appropriate for a play itself.  After a short round of revisions from some of his colleagues and intended fellow signatories, the manifesto was distributed for endorsement by the German cultural elite.

And endorse it they did.  The Authors’ Declaration had boasted fifty-three of the biggest names in literary and academic Britain; the drafters of the German manifesto, not to be outdone, brought together ninety-three such persons in addition to a host of internationally renowned scientists, theologians, musicians and artists.  The list of signatories included no fewer than ten Nobel laureates.

It is, in many ways, an astounding document.  Much is made of the caution with which Germany made the weighty decision to invade Belgium in the first place, and several of the articles in the manifesto seem to be direct refutations of claims found in the Authors’ Declaration.  Little effort is made to deny that the German hand in Belgium had been heavy — atrocities are dismissed either as exaggerations or as having been thoroughly deserved.  The emphasis is rather upon the degree to which the German culture is a superior and desirable one, with this being offered as an assurance of the ultimately civilized outlook of both the German army and its administrators.  This is painted in stark contrast to the Allies, who are bewilderingly accused of “inciting Mongolians and Negroes against the white race.”

Many (possibly even most) of the manifesto’s signatories repudiated its contents after the war — some because their perspective on the proceedings had changed, but some also because, as they unhappily admitted, they had not actually had the chance to read the manifesto before agreeing to endorse it.

Whatever the legitimacy of the document as an example of the German intellectuals’ position at the war’s outset, it remains a peculiar and important piece:

   Appeal to the Civilized World

As representatives of German Science and Art, we hereby protest to the civilized world against the lies and calumnies with which our enemies are endeavoring to stain the honor of Germany in her hard struggle for existence—in a struggle that has been forced on her.

The iron mouth of events has proved the untruth of the fictitious German defeats; consequently misrepresentation and calumny are all the more eagerly at work. As heralds of truth we raise our voices against these.

It is not true that Germany is guilty of having caused this war. Neither the people, the Government, nor the Kaiser wanted war. Germany did her utmost to prevent it; for this assertion the world has documental proof. Often enough during the twenty-six years of his reign has Wilhelm II shown himself to be the upholder of peace, and often enough has this fact been acknowledged by our opponents. Nay, even the Kaiser, whom they now dare to call an Attila, has been ridiculed by them for years, because of his steadfast endeavors to maintain universal peace. Not till a numerical superiority which has been lying in wait on the frontiers assailed us did the whole nation rise to a man.

It is not true that we trespassed in neutral Belgium. It has been proved that France and England had resolved on such a trespass, and it has likewise been proved that Belgium had agreed to their doing so. It would have been suicide on our part not to have preempted this.

It is not true that the life and property of a single Belgian citizen was injured by our soldiers without the bitterest self-defense having made it necessary; for again and again, notwithstanding repeated threats, the citizens lay in ambush, shooting at the troops out of the houses, mutilating the wounded, and murdering in cold blood the medical men while they were doing their Samaritan work. There can be no baser abuse than the suppression of these crimes with the view of letting the Germans appear to be criminals, only for having justly punished these assassins for their wicked deeds.

It is not true that our troops treated Louvain brutally. Furious inhabitants having treacherously fallen upon them in their quarters, our troops with aching hearts were obliged to fire a part of the town as a punishment. The greatest part of Louvain has been preserved. The famous Town Hall stands quite intact; for at great self-sacrifice our soldiers saved it from destruction by the flames. Every German would of course greatly regret if in the course of this terrible war any works of art should already have been destroyed or be destroyed at some future time, but inasmuch as in our great love for art we cannot be surpassed by any other nation, in the same degree we must decidedly refuse to buy a German defeat at the cost of saving a work of art.

It is not true that our warfare pays no respect to international laws. It knows no indisciplined cruelty. But in the east the earth is saturated with the blood of women and children unmercifully butchered by the wild Russian troops, and in the west dumdum bullets mutilate the breasts of our soldiers. Those who have allied themselves with Russians and Serbians, and present such a shameful scene to the world as that of inciting Mongolians and negroes against the white race, have no right whatever to call themselves upholders of civilization.

It is not true that the combat against our so-called militarism is not a combat against our civilization, as our enemies hypocritically pretend it is. Were it not for German militarism, German civilization would long since have been extirpated. For its protection it arose in a land which for centuries had been plagued by bands of robbers as no other land had been. The German Army and the German people are one and today this consciousness fraternizes 70,000,000 Germans, all ranks, positions, and parties being one.

We cannot wrest the poisonous weapon—the lie—out of the hands of our enemies. All we can do is to proclaim to all the world that our enemies are giving false witness against us. You, who know us, who with us have protected the most holy possessions of man, we call to you:

Have faith in us! Believe, that we shall carry on this war to the end as a civilized nation, to whom the legacy of a Goethe, a Beethoven, and a Kant is just as sacred as its own hearths and homes.

For this we pledge you our names and our honor:

  1. Adolf von Baeyer, chemist: synthesized indigo, 1905 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry
  2. Peter Behrens, architect and designer
  3. Emil Adolf von Behring, physiologist: received the 1901 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
  4. Wilhelm von Bode, art historian and curator
  5. Aloïs Brandl, Austrian-German philologist
  6. Lujo Brentano, economist and social reformer
  7. Justus Brinckmann, art historian
  8. Johannes Conrad, political economist
  9. Franz von Defregger, Austrian artist
  10. Richard Dehmel, anti-conservative poet and writer
  11. Adolf Deissmann, Protestant theologian
  12. Wilhelm Dörpfeld, architect and archeologist (including site of ancient Troy)
  13. Friedrich von Duhn, classical scholar
  14. Paul Ehrlich, awarded the 1908 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, initiated chemotherapy, “the magic bullet”
  15. Albert Ehrhard, Catholic priest and church historian
  16. Karl Engler, chemist
  17. Gerhart Esser, Catholic theologian
  18. Rudolf Christoph Eucken, philosopher: winner of the 1908 Nobel Prize for Literature
  19. Herbert Eulenberg, poet and playwright
  20. Henrich Finke, Catholic church historian
  21. Hermann Emil Fischer, chemist: 1902 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry
  22. Wilhelm Foerster, also signed counter-manifesto
  23. Ludwig Fulda, Jewish playwright with strong social commitment
  24. Eduard von Gebhardt, painter
  25. Jan Jakob Maria de Groot, Sinologist and historian of religion
  26. Fritz Haber, chemist: received the 1918 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for synthesizing ammonia
  27. Ernst Haeckel, biologist: coined the words “ecology, phylum, stem cell,” developed “”ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”
  28. Max Halbe, dramatist
  29. Adolf von Harnack, Lutheran theologian
  30. Carl Hauptmann, playwright
  31. Gerhart Hauptmann, dramatist and novelist: received the 1912 Nobel Prize in Literature
  32. Gustav Hellmann, meteorologist
  33. Wilhelm Herrmann, Reformed theologian
  34. Andreas Heusler, Swiss medievalist
  35. Adolf von Hildebrand, sculptor
  36. Ludwig Hoffmann, architect
  37. Engelbert Humperdinck, composer: including “Hänsel und Gretel”
  38. Leopold Graf von Kalckreuth, painter
  39. Arthur Kampf, history painter
  40. Friedrich August von Kaulbach, painter
  41. Theodor Kipp, jurist
  42. Felix Klein, mathematician: group theory, complex analysis, non-Euclidean geometry; “the Klein bottle”
  43. Max Klinger, Symbolist painter, sculptor, printmaker, and writer
  44. Aloïs Knoepfler, art historian
  45. Anton Koch, Catholic theologian
  46. Paul Laband, professor of law
  47. Karl Lamprecht, historian
  48. Philipp Lenard, physicist: winner of the 1905 Nobel Prize for Physics for cathode rays research
  49. Maximilian Lenz, painter
  50. Max Liebermann, Jewish Impressionist painter and printmaker
  51. Franz von Liszt, jurist and legal scholar (cousin of the composer)
  52. Karl Ludwig Manzel, sculptor
  53. Joseph Mausbach, theologian
  54. Georg von Mayr, statistician
  55. Sebastian Merkle, Catholic theologian
  56. Eduard Meyer, historian
  57. Heinrich Morf, linguist
  58. Friedrich Naumann, liberal politician and Protestant pastor
  59. Albert Neisser, physician who discovered the cause of gonorrhea
  60. Walther Hermann Nernst, physicist: third law of thermodynamics, won the 1920 Nobel Prize in chemistry
  61. Wilhelm Ostwald, chemist: received the 1909 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
  62. Bruno Paul, architect, illustrator, interior designer, and furniture designer.
  63. Max Planck,theoretical physicist: originated quantum theory, awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918
  64. Albert Plohn, professor of medicine
  65. Georg Reicke, author
  66. Max Reinhardt, Austrian-born, American stage and film actor and director
  67. Alois Riehl, philosopher
  68. Carl Robert, philologist and archeologist
  69. Wilhelm Roentgen, physicist: known for X-rays, awarded 1901 Nobel Prize in Physics
  70. Max Rubner, physiologist and hygienist
  71. Fritz Schaper, sculptor
  72. Adolf von Schlatter, Evangelical theologian
  73. August Schmidlin, theologian
  74. Gustav von Schmoller, economist
  75. Reinhold Seeberg, theologian
  76. Martin Spahn, historian
  77. Franz von Stuck, symbolist/Art Nouveau painter, sculptor, engraver, and architect
  78. Hermann Sudermann, dramatist and novelist
  79. Hans Thoma, painter
  80. Wilhelm Trübner, realist painter
  81. Karl Vollmöller, playwright and screenwriter
  82. Richard Voss, dramatist and novelist
  83. Karl Vossler, linguist and scholar
  84. Siegfried Wagner, composer, son of Richard Wagner
  85. Wilhelm Waldeyer, anatomist: named the chromosome
  86. August von Wassermann, bacteriologist: developed the “Wassermann test” for syphilis
  87. Felix Weingartner, Austrian conductor, composer and pianist
  88. Theodor Wiegand, archeologist
  89. Wilhelm Wien, physicist: received the 1911 Nobel Prize for work on heat radiation
  90. Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, classical philologist
  91. Richard Willstätter, organic chemist: won the 1915 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for structure of plant pigments
  92. Wilhelm Windelband, philosopher
  93. Wilhelm Wundt, physician, psychologist, physiologist, philosopher, “father of experimental psychology”

Further reading:

  • Kramer, Alan and John Horne.  German Atrocities, 1914: A History of Denial (2001).
  • Vergey, Jeffrey.  The Spirit of 1914: Militarism, Myth, and Mobilization in Germany (2006).
  • Stromberg, Ronald N.  Redemption by War: The Intellectuals and 1914 (1982).

100D #1 | The Authors’ Declaration

13 May

[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.


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.

New posting series to begin at last

13 May

[N.B. I had initially planned to get this ball rolling back in March, but the tide of events turned against me and all was delayed.  The time has now come to get it all back on track, however, so here we go.]

It is a curious quirk of fate that there are currently no fewer than three books on the market organized around the theme of exploring the First World War “…in 100 Objects.”  Gary Sheffield’s is one; Peter Doyle’s is another; I confess I can’t remember who prepared the third, and I apologize to that author for the omission.  Whatever the case, it’s a popular format.

Mimicking it too closely myself would probably be a bad idea.  I am not an historian of material culture, and still less do I feel qualified to give any sort of overview of the war through descriptive engagements with objects-as-objects.  I am also, when it comes right down to it, not really an historian at all, but rather a literary scholar: I work, instead, with words.

With this in mind, and as a helpful spur to productivity, I’ve decided to start a new, intermittent posting series based instead on exploring the First World War in 100… Documents.  The threshold for “document” will be pretty broad, it must be confessed; readers can expect to see pieces on all sorts of things, be they poems, sermons, essays, posters, newspaper ads, proclamations, or goodness knows what else.  Everything from multi-volume books to two-line telegrams is on the table, but you’ll have to keep checking back to see what’s next.

The first post in this series has already appeared.

Canadian Literature of World War One

12 Mar

wwi lit logoThe tentative schedule for the upcoming international conference on Canadian WWI literature has now been posted; you can check it out here.

The conference will take place in Ottawa and is co-sponsored by the Canadian War Museum, the University of British Columbia and the University of Ottawa.  There will be four days of concurrent sessions and a trio of plenary addresses from Tim Cook, Margaret MacMillan and Frances Itani.  I’ll be presenting a paper there myself (on the Canadian humourist Stephen Leacock’s wartime writings in aid of Belgian Relief), and several of my colleagues from uOttawa’s English department will be giving talks on (among other subjects) Charles Yale Harrison’s Generals Die in Bed (1930) and Timothy Findley’s The Wars (1977) — two texts that would be all but impossible to exclude from any discussion of the Canadian literary response to the war.  Other colleagues from UO will present papers on the wartime experiences of Canon F.G. Scott, the contemporary Canadian dramatic response to the war, and the child-like rhetoric involved in describing the German enemy.

All in all, a promising affair.  If you happen to be in the area this summer, please consider coming out.

Welcome to BBC listeners

7 Mar

For those of you arriving from the link on the page at BBC Radio 4′s 1914-1918: The Cultural Front — welcome!  This is very, very far from being an aggressively updated blog, by any measurable stretch, but it’s something.  I hope to make it more dynamic at once.

In the meantime, interested parties can check out my contributions to Oxford’s WWI centenary project, Continuations and Beginnings — this recent one on the Authors’ Declaration of September 1914 will be especially relevant to those listening to The Cultural Front — or follow me on Twitter @1stWorldWarrior.  I can also be followed on both Academia.edu and LinkedIn.

I’m very grateful to BBC Radio 4 to have been asked to speak about these matters, and look forward to doing so again as the centenary events unfold.  In the meantime, thanks for stopping by — I intend for daily posting to resume on Monday, March 10th, so please feel free to check back.


10 Aug

In a move not likely to win him many friends with the Centenary approaching, prominent investment banker Bill Gross elected to describe the current state of the bond market in terms of the Somme campaign of 1916.  Yes, you read that right.

And so:

In his latest investment note – titled Bond Wars – Gross compares the current state of the markets to the aftermath of the Somme conflict in the World War One, when the British realised their traditional ‘horse and saber’ approach could not match the machine guns and flamethrowers used by the German army.

“Now that bonds have suffered a near Somme-like defeat in the past few months, fixed income investors are concerned about their prior conceptions of bonds as an asset class – an asset that has historically provided reliable income and stable to higher prices,” he says

“With yields so low, and with a negative 3–4 per cent two-month return for bond indices – investors wonder if the bond ‘horse and saber’ has given way to the alternative asset ‘machine gun’ of a new era.”

[ . . . ]

“It is an open question whether we are still marching three feet apace with 65-pound backpacks into the face of 1,000 machine guns, or safely burrowed in fox holes with revised strategies adaptive to a new era. Trust me, no investment firm has given this transition more thought,” he says.

“While our strategic execution in May/June of 2013 can and has been publically faulted, we are confident that we know how to win this evolving bond war. We have spent months – indeed years – preparing for this new dawn. We intend for you – our clients – to be surviving veterans of this battle, not casualties. Pimco will not go down at the Somme.”

To say nothing of the crass inadequacy of the comparisons being made, this is a veritable fever dream of mismatched ideas and atemporal connections.  Sabre-wielding cavalry charging into flamethrowers!  Good Lord.

If anyone is still wondering why scholars of the war are in such a fuss about “getting the war right” in time for the Centenary and the vast public involvement that’s coming, well… look to articles like this.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 42 other followers