Home > Uncategorized > John Galsworthy: On the drawbacks of uttering pro-war cant

John Galsworthy: On the drawbacks of uttering pro-war cant

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

John Galsworthy: Selections on war

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Johns Galsworthy
From The Burning Spear (1919)

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“Oh, dear!” said the old lady; “now you’ve got your feet wet!”

“It is nothing,” responded Mr. Lavender gallantly. And seeing that he was already wet, he rolled up his trousers, and holding up the tails of his holland coat, turned round and proceeded towards his hat, to the frantic delight of the crowd.

“The war is a lesson to us to make little of little things,” he thought, securing the hat and wringing it out. “My feet are wet, but – how much wetter they would be in the trenches, if feet can be wetter than wet through,” he mused with some exactitude. “Down, Blink, down!” For Blink was plastering him with the water-marks of joy and anxiety. “Nothing is quite so beautiful as the devotion of one’s own dog,” thought Mr. Lavender, resuming the hat, and returning towards the shore. The by-now-considerable throng were watching him with every mark of acute enjoyment; and the moment appeared to Mr. Lavender auspicious for addressing them. Without, therefore, emerging from the pond, which he took for his, platform, he spoke as follows:

“Circumstances over which I have no control have given me the advantage of your presence in numbers which do credit to the heart of the nation to which we all belong. In the midst of the greatest war which ever threatened the principle of Liberty, I rejoice to see so many people able to follow the free and spontaneous impulses of their inmost beings. For, while we must remember that our every hour is at the disposal of our country, we must not forget the maxim of our fathers: ‘Britons never will be slaves.’ Only by preserving the freedom of individual conscience, and at the same time surrendering it whole-heartedly to every [demand] the State makes on us, can we hope defeat the machinations of the arch enemies of mankind.”

At this moment a little stone hit him sharply on the hand.

“Who threw that stone?” said Mr. Lavender. “Let him stand out.”

The culprit, no other indeed than he who had thrown the hat in, and not fetched it out for a shilling, thus menaced with discovery made use of a masterly device, and called out loudly:

“Pro-German!”

Such was the instinctive patriotism of the crowd that the cry was taken up in several quarters; and for the moment Mr. Lavender remained speechless from astonishment. The cries of “Pro-German!” increased in volume, and a stone hitting her on the nose caused Blink to utter a yelp; Mr. Lavender’s eyes blazed.

“Huns!” he cried; “Huns! I am coming out.”

With this prodigious threat he emerged from the pond at the very moment that a car scattered the throng, and a well-known voice said:

“Well, sir, you ‘ave been goin’ it!”

“Joe,” said Mr. Lavender, “don’t speak to me!”

“Get in.”

“Never!”

“Pro-Germans!” yelled the crowd.

“Get in!” repeated Joe.

And seizing Mr. Lavender as if collaring him at football, he knocked off his hat, propelled him into the car, banged the door, mounted, and started at full speed, with Blink leaping and barking in front of them.

Debouching from Piave Parade into Bottomley Lane he drove up it till the crowd was but a memory before he stopped to examine the condition his master. Mr. Lavender was hanging out of window, looking back, and shivering violently.

“Well, sir,” said Joe. “I don’t think!”

“Joe,” said Mr. Lavender that crowd ought not to be at large. They were manifestly Huns.

“The speakin’s been a bit too much for you, sir,” said Joe. “But you’ve got it off your chest, anyway.”

Mr. Lavender regarded him for a moment in silence; then putting his hand to his throat, said hoarsely:

“No, on my chest, I think, Joe. All public speakers do. It is inseparable from that great calling.”

“‘Alf a mo’!” grunted Joe, diving into the recesses beneath the driving-seat. “‘Ere, swig that off, sir.”

Mr. Lavender raised the tumbler of fluid to his mouth, and drank it off; only from the dregs left on his moustache did he perceive that it smelled of rum and honey.

“Joe,” he said reproachfully, “you have made me break my pledge.”

Joe smiled. “Well, what are they for, sir? You’ll sleep at ‘ome to-night.”

“Never,” said Mr. Lavender. “I shall sleep at High Barnet; I must address them there tomorrow on abstinence during the war.”

“As you please, sir. But try and ‘ave a nap while we go along.” And lifting Blink into the car, where she lay drenched and exhausted by excitement, with the petal of a purple flower clinging to her black nose, he mounted to his seat and drove off. Mr. Lavender, for years unaccustomed to spirituous liquor, of which he had swallowed nearly half a pint neat, passed rapidly into a state of coma. Nor did he fully regain consciousness till he awoke in bed the next morning.

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