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George Gissing: Peace, no word more beautiful

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

British writers on peace and war

George Gissing: Selections on war

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George Gissing
From The Crown of Life

He had tired himself; his mind slipped from the beautiful things around him, and fell into the old reverie. He murmured the haunting name – Irene. As well as for her who bore it, he loved the name for its meaning. Peace! As a child he had been taught that no word was more beautiful, more solemn; at this moment, he could hear it in his father’s voice, sounding as a note of music, with a tremor of deep feeling. Peace! Every year that passed gave him a fuller understanding of his father’s devotion to that word in all its significance; he himself knew something of the same fervour, and was glad to foster it in his heart. Peace! What better could a man pursue? From of old the desire of wisdom, the prayer of the aspiring soul.

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“And after all, there’s no harm in a little fighting. It’s better to fight and have done with it than keeping on plotting between compliments. Nations arc just like schoolboys, you know; there has to be a round now and then; it settles things, and is good for the blood.”

Otway was biting a blade of grass; he smiled and said nothing. Mrs. Borisoff glanced from him to Irene, who also was smiling, but looked half vexed.

“How can it be good, for health or anything else?” Miss Derwent asked suddenly, turning to the speaker.

“Oh, we couldn’t do without fighting. It’s in human nature.”

“In uncivilised human nature, yes.”

“But really, you know,” urged March, with good-natured deference, “it wouldn’t do to civilise away pluck – courage – heroism – whatever one likes to call it.”

“Of course it wouldn’t. But what has pluck or heroism to do with bloodshed? How can anyone imagine that courage is only shown in fighting? I don’t happen to have been in a battle, but one knows very well how easy it must be for any coward or brute, excited to madness, to become what’s called a hero. Heroism is noble courage in ordinary life. Are you serious in thinking that life offers no opportunities for it?”

“Well – it’s not quite the same thing -”

“Happily, not! It’s a vastly better thing. Every day some braver deed is done by plain men and women – yes, women, if you please – than was ever known on the battle-field. One only hears of them now and then. On the railway – on the sea – in the hospital – in burning houses – in accidents of road and street – are there no opportunities for courage? In the commonest everyday home life, doesn’t any man or woman have endless chances of being brave or a coward? And this is civilised courage, not the fury of a bull at a red rag.”

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