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Archive for June, 2016

George Moore: War and disillusionment

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

British writers on peace and war

Irish writers on peace and war

George Moore: Murder pure and simple, impossible to revive the methods of Tamburlaine

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George Moore
From Ave (1911)

“England is, at present, the ugliest country. Oh, I have changed towards England. I try to forget that I once thought differently, for when I remember myself (my former self) I hate myself as much as I hate England.

“Doesn’t the lack of humour in the newspapers surprise you? This morning I read in the Pall Mall that we are an Imperial people, and being an Imperial people we must think Imperially, and presumably do everything else Imperially. Splendid, isn’t it? Everything, the apple-trees included, must be Imperial. We won’t eat apples except Imperial apples, and the trees are conjured to bear no others, but the apple-trees go on flowering and bearing the same fruit as before…”

***

It would be better to get away from London and waste no more time joining people in their walks, to try to persuade them that London was an ugly city, or to wring some admission from them that the Boer War was shameful…

***

The incident is one among hundreds of similar incidents, all pointing to the same fact that nothing but the war interested me as a subject of conversation or of thought. Every day the obsession became more terrible, and the surrender of my sanity more imminent. I shall try to tell the story as it happened, but fear that some of it will escape my pen; yet it is all before me clear as my reflection in the glass: that evening, for instance, when I walked with a friend through Berkeley Square and fell out with my friend’s appearance, so English did it seem to me to be, for he wore his clothes arrogantly; yet it was not his clothes so much as his sheeplike face that angered me. We were dining at the same house that night, and on looking round the dinner-table I saw the same sheep in everybody, in the women as much as in the men. Next day in Piccadilly I caught sight of it in every passer-by; every man and woman seemed to wear it, and everybody’s bearing and appearance suggested to me a repugnant, sensual cosmopolitanism; a heartless lust for gold was read by me in their faces – ‘for the goldfields of Pretoria which they haven’t gotten yet, and never will get, I hope.’

In the dusk England seemed to rise up before me in person, a shameful and vulgar materialism from which I turned with horror, and this passionate revolt against England was aggravated by memories of my former love of England, and, do what I would,

I could not forget that I had always met in England a warm heart, a beautiful imagination, firmness and quiet purpose. But I just had to forget that I ever thought well of England, or to discover that I had been mistaken in England. To bring the point as clearly as I may before the reader, I will ask him to think of a man who has lived happily and successfully with a woman for many years, and suddenly discovers her to be a criminal or guilty of some infidelity towards him; to be, at all events, one whose conduct and capacities are not those that he had credited her with. As his suspicions multiply, the beauties which he once read in her face and figure fade, and her deportment becomes aggressive, till she can no longer cross the room without exciting angry comment in his mind. A little later he finds that he cannot abide in the house, so offensive is it to him; the disposition of the furniture reminds him of her; and one day the country through which they used to walk together turns so distasteful that he longs to take the train and quit it for ever. How the change has been accomplished he does not know, and wonders. The hills and the woods compose the landscape as they did before, but the poetry has gone out of them; no gleam of sunlight plays along the hillsides for him, and no longer does the blue hill rise up far away like a land out of which dreams come and whither they go. The world exists only in our ideas of it, and as my idea of England changed England died, so far as I was concerned; an empty materialism was all I could see around me; and with this idea in my mind my eyes soon saw London as a great sprawl of brick on either side of a muddy river without a statue that one could look upon with admiration.

***

They must have felt that my departure was decreed, though no reasons were given, except that the Boer War had rendered any further stay in England impossible to me.

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Menander: Inglorious military vainglory

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Plutarch: Selections on war and peace

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Plutarch
From On Inoffensive Self-Praise
Translated by Phillip H. De Lacey and Benedict Einarson

Witness the character in Menander:

He murders me. The feasting makes me thin.
Good God! The wit! The military wit!
What airs he gives himself, the blasted windbag!

These are the feelings and language to which we are prompted not only by soldiers and the newly rich with their flaunting and ostentatious talk, but also by sophists, philosophers, and commanders who are full of their own importance and hold forth on the theme; and if we remember that praise of oneself always involves dispraise from others, that this vainglory has an inglorious end, the audience being left, as Demosthenes says, with a feeling of vexation, not with any belief in the truth of the self-portrait, we shall avoid talking about ourselves unless we have in prospect some great advantage to our hearers or to ourselves.

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Hermann Sudermann: Militarism and its terminus

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

German writers on peace and war

Hermann Sudermann: War irrigates the soil with blood, fertilizes it with corpses

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Hermann Sudermann
From The Mad Professor: A Novel of the Bismarck Years (1926)
Translated by Isabel Leighton and Otto P. Schinnerer

“…I spoke before of German tragedy and it was part of this tragedy that the German Empire was not created by those who for decades had propagated the idea as their own, but rather by one of those factions which hitherto had been one of its bitterest enemies. For that reason perforce, a different result eventuated from that originally intended. It arose out of the stench of powder and of blood and this stench will cling to it whether it likes it or not, as long as it exists. Therefore, the growing preparedness, therefore, what one calls, in praise or in censure, German Militarism; therefore, too the sword rattling the entire world over. And the worst of it is, it sprang into existence through a conflict with a people upon whose friendship, if we want to advance intellectually, we are more dependent than upon the good will of any nation anywhere around us…Not only France but all the West stand in opposition and secret hatred against us, and the more we try to arm ourselves against it, the more intense it will become, and the more we shall appear as destroyers of peace and enemies of mankind in their eyes. How do we, we sleepy Germans, we, the so-called nation of poets and thinkers, come to be branded with this suspicion? And sometimes at night when I can’t sleep, I think of a passage which I read in one of the minor prophets of the Old Testament and which foretells the fall of Assyria. It reads: ‘And I will cast abominable filth upon thee, and make thee vile, and will set thee as a gazing-stock. And it shall come to pass that all they that look upon thee shall flee from thee, and say, Nineveh is laid waste; who will bemoan her?'”

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Antiphanes: War and personal destiny

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Antiphanes
From The Soldier
Translated by Charles Burton Gulick

“Any mortal man who counts on having anything he owns secure for life is very much mistaken. For either a war-tax snatches away all he has saved, or he becomes involved in a lawsuit and loses all, or he is fined after serving in the War Office…or called to serve as trierarch, he hangs himself, or sailing in his ship he is captured somewhere…”

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John Gay: Parallel lives. Highwaymen and soldiers.

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

British writers on peace and war

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John Gay
From The Beggar’s Opera

Jemmy…Why are the Laws levell’d at us? are we more dishonest than the rest of Mankind? What we win, Gentlemen, is our own by the Law of Arms, and the Right of Conquest.

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Let us take the Road.
Hark! I hear the Sound of Coaches!
The Hour of Attack approaches,
To your Arms, brave Boys, and load.
See the Ball I hold!
Let the Chymists toil like Asses,
Our Fire their Fire surpasses,
And turns all our Lead to Gold.

***

A Fox may steal your Hens, Sir,
A Whore your Health and Pence, Sir,
Your Daughter rob your Chest, Sir,
Your Wife may steal your Rest, Sir.
A Thief your Goods and Plate.
But this is all but picking,
With Rest, Pence, Chest and Chicken;
It ever was decreed, Sir,
If Lawyer’s Hand is fee’d, Sir,
He steals your whole Estate.

***

Beggar. Through the whole Piece you may observe such a Similitude of Manners in high and low Life, that it is difficult to determine whether (in the fashionable Vices) the fine Gentlemen imitate the Gentlemen of the Road, or the Gentlemen of the Road the fine Gentlemen. – Had the Play remained, as I at first intended, it would have carried a most excellent Moral. ’Twould have shewn that the lower Sort of People have their Vices in a degree as well as the Rich: And that they are punish’d for them.

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Charles Brockden Brown: Such is the spectacle exhibited in every field of battle

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Charles Brockden Brown
From Edgar Huntley (1799)

My faltering hand rendered this second bullet ineffectual. One expedient, still more detestable, remained. Having gone thus far, it would have been inhuman to stop short. His heart might easily be pierced by the bayonet, and his struggles would cease.

This task of cruel lenity was at length finished. I dropped the weapon and threw myself on the ground, overpowered by the horrors of this scene. Such are the deeds which perverse nature compels thousands of rational beings to perform and to witness! Such is the spectacle, endlessly prolonged and diversified, which is exhibited in every field of battle; of which habit and example, the temptations of gain, and the illusions of honor, will make us, not reluctant or indifferent, but zealous and delighted actors and beholders!

Thus, by a series of events impossible to be computed or foreseen, was the destruction of a band, selected from their fellows for an arduous enterprise, distinguished by prowess and skill, and equally armed against surprise and force, completed…

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