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George Gissing: War turns science into enemy of man

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

George Gissing: Selections on war

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George Gissing
From The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903)

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I hate and fear “science” because of my conviction that, for long to come if not for ever, it will be the remorseless enemy of mankind. I see it destroying all simplicity and gentleness of life, all the beauty of the world; I see it restoring barbarism under a mask of civilization; I see it darkening men’s minds and hardening their hearts; I see it bringing a time of vast conflicts, which will pale into insignificance “the thousand wars of old,” and, as likely as not, will whelm all the laborious advances of mankind in blood-drenched chaos.

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Many a time I have said to myself that I would close the dreadful record of human life, lay it for ever aside, and try to forget it. Somebody declares that history is a manifestation of the triumph of good over evil. The good prevails now and then, no doubt, but how local and transitory is such triumph. If historic tomes had a voice, it would sound as one long moan of anguish. Think steadfastly of the past, and one sees that only by defect of imaginative power can any man endure to dwell with it. History is a nightmare of horrors; we relish it, because we love pictures, and because all that man has suffered is to man rich in interest. But make real to yourself the vision of every blood-stained page – stand in the presence of the ravening conqueror, the savage tyrant – tread the stones of the dungeon and of the torture-room – feel the fire of the stake – hear the cries of that multitude which no man can number, the victims of calamity, of oppression, of fierce injustice in its myriad forms, in every land, in every age – and what joy have you of your historic reading? One would need to be a devil to understand it thus, and yet to delight in it.

Injustice – there is the loathed crime which curses the memory of the world. The slave doomed by his lord’s caprice to perish under tortures – one feels it a dreadful and intolerable thing; but it is merely the crude presentment of what has been done and endured a million times in every stage of civilization. Oh, the last thoughts of those who have agonized unto death amid wrongs to which no man would give ear! That appeal of innocence in anguish to the hard, mute heavens! Were there only one such instance in all the chronicles of time, it should doom the past to abhorred oblivion. Yet injustice, the basest, the most ferocious, is inextricable from warp and woof in the tissue of things gone by. And if anyone soothes himself with the reflection that such outrages can happen no more, that mankind has passed beyond such hideous possibility, he is better acquainted with books than with human nature.

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