Home > Uncategorized > John Galsworthy: History, made up of wars and intrigues which have originated in the brains of public men

John Galsworthy: History, made up of wars and intrigues which have originated in the brains of public men

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

John Galsworthy: Selections on war

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John Galsworthy
From The Burning Spear (1919)

761px-John_galsworthy

IX

CONVERSES WITH A CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR

“‘Aven’t you never noticed, sir, that there’s two worlds – the world as it is, and the world as it seems to the public man?”

“That may be,” said Mr. Lavender with some excitement. “But which is the greater, which is the nobler, Joe? And what does the other matter? Surely that which flourishes in great minds, and by their utterances is made plain. Is it not better to live in a world where nobody shrinks from being starved or killed so long as they can die for their kings and countries, rather than in a world where people merely wish to live?”

“Ah!” said Joe, “we’re all ready to die for our countries if we’ve got to. But we don’t look on it, like the public speakers, as a picnic. They’re a bit too light-‘earted.”

“Joe,” said Mr. Lavender, covering his ears, and instantly uncovering them again, “this is the most horrible blasphemy I have ever listened to.”

“I can do better than that, sir,” answered Joe. “Shall I get on with it?”

“Yes,” said Mr. Lavender, clenching his hands, “a public man shrinks from nothing – not even from the gibes of his enemies.”

“Well, wot abaht it, sir? Look at the things they say, and at what really is. Mind you, I’m not speakin’ particular of the public men in this country – or any other country; I’m speakin’ of the lot of ’em in every country. They’re a sort of secret society, brought up on gas. And every now and then someone sets a match to it, and we get it in the neck. Look ‘ere, sir. Dahn squats one on his backside an’ writes something in ‘igh words. Up pops another and says something in ‘igher; an’ so they go on poppin’ up an’ squattin’ dahn till you get an atmosphere where you can’t breathe; and all the time all we want is to be let alone, and ‘uman kindness do the rest. All these fellers ‘ave got two weaknesses – one’s ideas, and the other’s their own importance. They’ve got to be conspicuous, and without ideas they can’t, so it’s a vicious circle. When I see a man bein’ conspicuous, I says to meself: ‘Gawd ‘elp us, we shall want it!’ And sooner or later we always do. I’ll tell you what’s the curse of the world, sir; it’s the gift of expressin’ what ain’t your real feeling. And – Lord! what a lot of us ‘ave got it!”

“Joe,” said Mr. Lavender, whose eyes were almost starting from his head, “your words are the knell of poetry, philosophy, and prose – especially of prose. They are the grave of history, which, as you know, is made up of the wars and intrigues which have originated in the brains of public men. If your sordid views were true, how do you suppose for one minute that in this great epic struggle we could be consoled by the thought that we are ‘making history’? Has there been a single utterance of any note which has not poured the balm of those words into our ears? Think how they have sustained the widow and the orphan, and the wounded lying out in agony under the stars. ‘To make history,’ ‘to act out the great drama’ – that thought, ever kept before us, has been our comfort and their stay. And you would take it from us? Shame – shame!” repeated Mr. Lavender. “You would destroy all glamour, and be the death of every principle.”

“Give me facts,” said Joe stubbornly, “an’ you may ‘ave my principles. As to the other thing, I don’t know what it is, but you may ‘ave it, too. And ‘ere’s another thing, sir: haven’t you never noticed that when a public man blows off and says something, it does ‘im in? No matter what ‘appens afterwards, he’s got to stick to it or look a fool.”

“I certainly have not,” said Mr. Lavender. “I have never, or very seldom, noticed that narrowness in public men, nor have I ever seen them ‘looking fools’ as you rudely put it.”

“Where are your eyes, sir?” answered Joe; “where are your eyes? I give you my word it’s one or the other, though I admit they’ve brought camouflage to an ‘igh art. But, speaking soberly, sir, if that’s possible, public men are a good thing’ and you can ‘ave too much of it. But you began it, sir,” he added soothingly, “and ‘ere’s your hotel. You’ll feel better with something inside you.”

So saying, he brought the car to a standstill before a sign which bore the words, “Royal Goat.”

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