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George Meredith: Nations at war are wild beasts

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

British writers on peace and war

George Meredith: Selections on peace and war

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George Meredith
From The Adventures of Harry Richmond

“Dearest, you have nations fighting: a war is only an exaggerated form of duelling.”

“Nations at war are wild beasts,’ she replied. “The passions of these hordes of men are not an example for a living soul. Our souls grow up to the light: we must keep eye on the light, and look no lower. Nations appear to me to have no worse than a soiled mirror of themselves in mobs. They are still uncivilized: they still bear a resemblance to the old monsters of the mud. Do you not see their claws and fangs, Harry? Do you find an apology in their acts for intemperate conduct? Men who fight duels appear in my sight no nobler than the first desperate creatures spelling the cruel A B C of the passions.”

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Fighting, I said, resembled butting, – a performance proper to creatures that grow horns instead of brains…not to allude to a multitude of telling remarks; and the question “Is man a fighting animal?” my answer being that he is not born with spurs on his heels or horns to his head and that those who insisted on fighting should be examined by competent anatomists, “ologists” of some sort, to decide whether they have the excrescences, and proclaim them…touching on these lighter parts of my theme with extreme delicacy.

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