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George Eliot: Tart rebuke of crude war propaganda

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

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George Eliot
Review of Alfred Tennyson‘s Maud and Other Poems
(1855)

These family sorrows and mortifications the hero regards as the direct results of the anti-social tendencies of Peace, which he proceeds to expose to us in all its hideousness; looking to war as the immediate curative for unwholesome lodging of the poor, adulteration of provisions, child-murder and wife-beating – an effect which is as yet by no means visible in our police reports. It seems indeed that in the opinion of our hero, nothing short of an invasion of our own coasts is the consummation devoutly to be wished:

For I trust that if an enemy’s fleet came yonder round by the hill,
And the rushing battle-bolt rang from the three-decker out of the foam,
That the smoothfaced snubnosed rogue would leap from his counter and his till,
And strike, if he could, were it but with his cheating yard wand, home.

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And now he find the hero an exile on the Breton coast, where, from delivering some stanzas from Natural Theology à propos of a shell, he proceed to retrace the sad memories of his love, until he becomes mad. We have then a Bedlam soliloquy, in which he fancies himself dead, and mingles with images of Maud, her father, and her brother, his earlyfixed idea – the police reports. From this madness he is recovered by the news that the Allies have declared war against Russia; whereupon he bursts into a paean, that

The long, long canker of Peace is over and done.

It is possible, no doubt, to allegorize all this into a variety of edifying meanings; but it remains true that the ground-notes of the poem are nothing more than hatred of peace and the Peace Society, hatred of commerce and coal-mines, hatred of young gentlemen with flourishing whiskers and padded coats, adoration of a clear-cut face, and faith in War as the unique social regenerator.

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