The Drama Of Three Hundred & Sixty-Five Days - Scenes In The Great War - 1915
by Hall Caine
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By Hall Caine







Mr. Maeterlinck has lately propounded the theory {*} that what we call the war is neither more nor less than the visible expression of a vast invisible conflict. The unseen forces of good and evil in the universe are using man as a means of contention. On the result of the struggle the destiny of humanity on this planet depends. Is the Angel to prevail? Or is the Beast to prolong his malignant existence? The issue hangs on Fate, which does not, however, deny the exercise of the will of man. Mystical and even fantastic as the theory may seem to be, there is no resisting its appeal. A glance back over the events of the past year leaves us again and again without clue to cause and effect. It is impossible to account for so many things that have happened. We cannot always say, "We did this because of that," or "Our enemies did that because of the other." Time after time we can find no reason why things happened as they have—so unaccountable and so contradictory have they seemed to be. The dark work wrought by Death during the past year has been done in the blackness of a night in which none can read. Hence some of us are forced to yield to Mr. Maeterlinck's theory, which is, I think, the theory of the ancients—the theory on which the Greeks built their plays—that invisible powers of good and evil, operating in regions that are above and beyond man's control, are working out his destiny in this monstrous drama of the war.

* The Daily Chronicle.

And what a drama it has been already! We had witnessed only 365 days of it down to August 4, 1915, corresponding at the utmost to perhaps three of its tragic acts, but what scenes, what emotions! Mr. Lowell used to say that to read Carlyle's book on the French Revolution was to see history as by flashes of lightning. It is only as by flashes of lightning that we can yet hope to see the world-drama of 1914-15. Figures, groups, incidents, episodes, without the connecting links of plots, and just as they have been thrown off by Time, the master-producer—what a spectacle they make, what a medley of motives, what a confused jumble of sincerities and hypocrisies, heroisms and brutalities, villainies and virtues!

As happens in every drama, a great deal of the tragic mischief had occurred before the curtain rose. Always before the passage of war over the world there comes the far-off murmur of its approaching wings. Each of us in this case had heard it, distinctly or indistinctly, according to the accidents of personal experience. I think I myself heard it for the first time dearly when in the closing year of King Edward's reign I came to know (it is unnecessary to say how) what our Sovereign's feeling had been about his last visit to Berlin. It can do no harm now to say that it had been a feeling of intense anxiety. The visit seemed necessary, even imperative, there-fore the King would not shirk his duty. But for his country, as well as for himself, he had feared for his reception in Germany, and on his arrival in Berlin, and during his drive from the railway station with the Kaiser, he had watched and listened to the demonstrations in the streets with an emotion which very nearly amounted to dread.

The result had brought a certain relief. With the best of all possible intentions, the newspapers in both capitals had reported that King Edward's reception had been enthusiastic. It hadn't been that—at least, it hadn't seemed to be that to the persons chiefly concerned. But it had been just cordial enough not to be chilling, just warm enough to carry things off, to drown that far-off murmur of war which was like the approach of a mighty wind. Then, during the next days, there had been the usual banqueting, with the customary toasting to the amity of the two great nations, whose interests were so closely united by bonds of peace! And then the return drive to the railway station, the clatter of horsemen in shining armour, the adieux, the throbbing of the engine, the starting of the train, and then.... "Thank God, it's over!" If the invisible powers had really been struggling over the destiny of men, how the evil half of them must have shrieked with delight that day as the Kaiser rode back to Potsdam and our King returned to London!


Other whisperings there were of the storm that was so soon to burst on the world. In the ominous silence there were rumours of a certain change that was coming over the spirit of the Kaiser. For long years he had been credited with a sincere love of peace, and a ceaseless desire to restrain the forces about him that were making for war. Although constantly occupied with the making of a big army, and inspiring it with great ideals, he was thought to have as little desire for actual warfare as his ancestor, Frederick William, had shown, while gathering up his giant guardsmen and refusing to allow them to fight. Particularly it was believed in Berlin (not altogether graciously) that his affection for, and even fear of his grandmother, Queen Victoria, would compel him to exhaust all efforts to preserve peace in the event of trouble with Great Britain. But Victoria was dead, and King Edward might perhaps be smiled at—behind his back—and then a younger generation was knocking at the Kaiser's door in the person of his eldest son, who represented forces which he might not long be able to hold in check. How would he act now?

Thousands of persons in this country had countless opportunities before the war of forming an estimate of the Kaiser's character. I had only one, and it was not of the best. For years the English traveller abroad felt as if he were always following in the track of a grandiose personality who was playing on the scene of the world as on a stage, fond as an actor of dressing up in fine uniforms, of making pictures, scenes, and impressions, and leaving his visible mark behind him—as in the case of the huge gap in the thick walls of Jerusalem, torn down (it was said with his consent) to let his equipage pass through.

In Rome I saw a man who was a true son of his ancestors. Never had the laws of heredity better justified themselves. Frederick William, Frederick the Great, William the First—the Hohenzollerns were all there. The glittering eyes, the withered arm, the features that gave signs of frightful periodical pain, the immense energy, the gigantic egotism, the ravenous vanity, the fanaticism amounting to frenzy, the dominating power, the dictatorial temper, the indifference to suffering (whether his own or other people's), the overbearing suppression of opposing opinions, the determination to control everybody's interest, everybody's work—I thought all this was written in the Kaiser's masterful face. Then came stories. One of my friends in Rome was an American doctor who had been called to attend a lady of the Emperor's household. "Well, doctor, what's she suffering from?" said the Kaiser. The doctor told him. "Nothing of the kind—you're entirely wrong. She's suffering from so and so," said the Majesty of Germany, stamping up and down the room. At length the American doctor lost control. "Sir," he said, "in my country we have a saying that one bad practitioner is worth twenty good amateurs—you're the amateur." The doctor lived through it. Frederick William would have dragged him to the window and tried to fling him out of it. William II put his arm round the doctor's shoulder and said, "I didn't mean to hurt you, old fellow. Let us sit down and talk."

A soldier came with another story. After a sham fight conducted by the Kaiser the generals of the German army had been summoned to say what they thought of the Royal manoeuvres. All had formed an unfavourable opinion, yet one after another, with some insincere compliment, had wriggled out of the difficulty of candid criticism. But at length came an officer, who said:

"Sir, if it had been real warfare to-day there wouldn't be enough wood in Germany to make coffins for the men who would be dead."

The general lived through it, too—at first in a certain disfavour, but afterwards in recovered honour.

Such was the Kaiser, who a year ago had to meet the mighty wind of War. He was in Norway for his usual summer holiday in July 1914 when affairs were reaching their crisis. Rumour has it that he was not satisfied with the measure of the information that was reaching him, therefore he returned to Berlin, somewhat to the discomfiture of his ministers, intending, it is said, for various reasons (not necessarily humanitarian) to stop or at least postpone the war. If so, he arrived too late. He was told that matters had gone too far. They must go on now. "Very well, if they must, they must," he is reported to have said. And there is the familiar story that after he had signed his name on the first of August to the document that plunged Europe into the conflict that has since shaken it to its foundations, he flung down his pen and cried, "You'll live to regret this, gentlemen."


And then the Crown Prince. In August of last year nine out of every ten of us would have said that not the father, but the son, of the Royal family of Germany had been the chief provocative cause of the war. Subsequent events have lessened the weight of that opinion. But the young man's known popularity among an active section of the officers of the army; their subterranean schemes to set him off against his father; a vague suspicion of the Kaiser's jealousy of his eldest son—all these facts and shadows of facts give colour to the impression that not least among the forces which led the Emperor on that fateful first of August to declare war against Russia was the presence and the importunity of the Crown Prince. What kind of man was it, then, whom the invisible powers of evil were employing to precipitate this insensate struggle?

Hundreds of persons in England, France, Russia, and Italy must have met the Crown Prince of Germany at more or less close quarters, and formed their own estimates of his character. The barbed-wire fence of protective ceremony which usually surrounds Royal personages, concealing their little human foibles, was periodically broken down in the case of the Heir-Apparent to the German Throne by his incursion every winter into a small cosmopolitan community which repaired to the snows of the Engadine for health or pleasure. In that stark environment I myself, in common with many others, saw the descendant of the Fredericks every day, for several weeks of several years, at a distance that called for no intellectual field-glasses. And now I venture to say, for whatever it may be worth, that the result was an entirely unfavourable impression.

I saw a young man without a particle of natural distinction, whether physical, moral, or mental. The figure, long rather than tall; the hatchet face, the selfish eyes, the meaningless mouth, the retreating forehead, the vanishing chin, the energy that expressed itself merely in restless movement, achieving little, and often aiming at nothing at all; the uncultivated intellect, the narrow views of life and the world; the morbid craving for change, for excitement of any sort; the indifference to other people's feelings, the shockingly bad manners, the assumption of a right to disregard and even to outrage the common conventions on which social intercourse depends—all this was, so far as my observation enabled me to judge, only too plainly apparent in the person of the Crown Prince. 21

Outside the narrow group that gathered about him (a group hailing, ironically enough, from the land of a great Republic) I cannot remember to have heard in any winter one really warm word about him, one story of an act of kindness, or even generous condescension, such as it is easy for a royal personage to perform. On the contrary, I was constantly hearing tales of silly fooleries, of overbearing behaviour, of deliberate rudeness, such as irresistibly recalled, in spirit if not in form, the conduct of the common barrator in the guise of a king, who, if Macaulay's stories are to be credited, used to kick a lady in the open streets and tell her to go home and mind her brats.


Only it was not Prussia we were living in, and it was not the year 1720, so the air tingled occasionally with other tales of little salutary lessons administered to our Royal upstart on his style of pursuing the pleasures considered suitable to a Prince. One day it was told of him that, having given a cup to be raced for on the Bob-run, he was wroth to find on the notice-board of entries the names of a team of highly respectable little Englishmen who are familiar on the racecourse; and, taking out his pencil-case, he scored them off, saying, "My cup is for gentlemen, not jockeys," whereupon a young English soldier standing by had said: "We're not jockeys here, sir, and we're not princes; we are only sportsmen."

I cannot vouch for that story, but I can certainly say that, after a particularly flagrant and deliberate act of rudeness, imperilling the safety of several persons in the village street, the Crown Prince of Germany was told to his foolish face by an Englishman, who need not be named, that he was a fool, and a damned fool, and deserved to be kicked off the road.

And this is the mindless, but mischievous, person, the ridiculous buccaneer, born out of his century, who was permitted to interfere in the destinies of Europe; to help to determine the fate of tens of millions of men on the battlefields, and the welfare of hundreds of millions of women and children in their homes. What wild revel the invisible powers of evil must have held in Berlin on that night of August 1, 1914, after the Kaiser had thrown down his pen!


Then the Archduke Ferdinand of Austro-Hungary, whose assassination was the ostensible cause of this devastating war—what kind of man was he? Quite a different person from the Crown Prince, and yet, so far as I could judge, just as little worthy of the appalling sacrifice of human life which his death has occasioned. Not long before his tragic end I spent a month under the same roof with him, and though the house was only an hotel, it was situated in a remote place, and though I was not in any sense of the Archduke's party, I walked and talked frequently with most of the members of it, and so, with the added help of daily observation, came to certain conclusions about the character of the principal personage.

A middle-aged man, stiff-set, heavy-jawed, with a strong step, and a short manner; obviously proud, reserved, silent, slightly imperious, self-centred, self-opinionated, well-educated in the kind of knowledge all such men must possess, but narrow in intellect, retrograde in sympathy, a stickler for social conventions, an almost unyielding upholder of royal rights, prerogatives, customs, and usages (although by his own marriage he had violated one of the first of the laws of his class, and by his unfailing fidelity to his wife continued to resist it), superstitious rather than religious, an immense admirer of the Kaiser, and a decidedly hostile critic of our own country—such was the general impression made on one British observer by the Archduke Ferdinand.

The man is dead; he took no part in the war, except unwittingly by the act of dying, and therefore one could wish to speak of him with respect and restraint. Otherwise it might be possible to justify this estimate of his character by the narration of little incidents, and one such, though trivial in itself, may perhaps bear description. The younger guests of the hotel in the mountains had got up a fancy dress ball, and among persons clad in all conceivable costumes, including those of monks, cardinals, and even popes, a lady of demure manners, who did not dance, had come downstairs in the habit of a nun. This aroused the superstitious indignation of the Archduke, who demanded that the lady should retire from the room instantly, or he would order his carriage and leave the hotel at once.

Of course, the inevitable happened—the Archduke's will became law, and the lady went upstairs in tears, while I and two or three others (Catholics among us) thought and said, "Heaven help Europe when the time comes for its destinies to depend largely on the judgment of a man whose be-muddled intellect cannot distinguish between morality of the real world and of an entirely fantastic and fictitious one."


That time, as we now know, never came, but a still more fatal time did come—the cruel, ironical, and sinister time of July 28, 1914, when one of the oldest, feeblest, and least capable of living men, the Emperor of Austria, under the pretence of avenging the death of the heir-presumptive to his throne, signed with his trembling hand, which could scarcely hold the pen, the first of his many proclamations of war, and so touched the button of the monstrous engine that set Europe aflame.

The Archduke Ferdinand was foully done to death in discharging a patriotic duty, but to think that the penalty imposed on the world for the assassination of a man of his calibre and capacity for usefulness (or yet for the violation of the principles of public safety, thereby involved) has been the murdering of millions of men of many nationalities, the destruction of an entire kingdom, the burning of historic cities, the impoverishment of the rich and the starvation of the poor, the outraging of women and the slaughter of children, is also to think that for the past 365 days the destinies of humanity have been controlled by demons, who must be shrieking with laughter at the stupidities of mankind.

Thank God, we are not required to think anything quite so foolish, although we can not escape from a conclusion almost equally degrading. Victor Hugo used to say that only kings desired war, and that with the celebration of the United States of Europe we should see the beginning of the golden age of Peace. But the events of the tremendous days from July 28 to August 4,1914, show us with humiliating distinctness that though Kaisers, Emperors, Crown Princes, and Archdukes may be the accidental instruments of invisible powers in plunging humanity into seas of blood, a war is no sooner declared by any of them, however feeble or fatuous, than all the nations concerned make it their own. That was what happened in Central Europe the moment Austria declared war on Serbia, and the history of man on this planet has no record of anything more pitiful than the spectacle of Germany—"sincere, calm, deep-thinking Germany," as Carlyle called her, whose triumph in 1870 was "the hopefullest fact" of his time—stifling her conscience in order to justify her participation in the conflict.


"We have tried in vain to localize the just vengeance of our Austrian neighbour for an abominable royal murder," said the Germans, knowing well that the royal murder was nothing but a shameless pretext for an opportunity to test their strength against the French, and give law to the rest of Europe.

"Let us pass over your territory in order to attack our enemy in the West, and we promise to respect your independence and to recompense you for any loss you may possibly sustain," said Germany to Belgium, without a thought of the monstrous crime of treachery which she was asking Belgium to commit against France.

"Stand aside in a benevolent neutrality, and we undertake not to take any of the possessions of France in Europe," said Germany to Great Britain, without allowing herself to be troubled by so much as a qualm about the iniquity of asking us to trade with her in the French colonies. And when we rejected Germany's infamous proposals, and called on her to say if she meant to respect the independence of Belgium, whose integrity we had mutually pledged ourselves to protect, her Chancellor stamped and fumed at our representative, and said, "Good God, man, do you mean to say that your country will go to war for a scrap of paper?"


Nor did the theologians, publicists, and authors of Germany show a more sensitive conscience than her statesmen. One of the theologians was Adolf Harnack, professor of Church History in Berlin and intimate acquaintance of the Kaiser. Not long before the war he published a book entitled "What is Christianity?" which began with the words, "John Stuart Mill used to say humanity could not be too often reminded that there was once a man named Socrates. That is true, but still more important it is to remind mankind that a man of the name of Jesus Christ once lived among them." On this text the Book proceeded to enforce the practical application of Christ's teaching to the modern world, and particularly to propound his doctrine of the wickedness and futility of violence, which led the author to the conclusion that it was "not necessary for justice to use force in order to remain justice."

Somewhat later Professor Harnack came to this country to attend, if I remember rightly, a World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh, and the memory of him which abides in our northern capital is that of a high priest and prophet of the new golden age that was dawning on the world—the age of universal brotherhood and peace. But no sooner had war come within the zone of Germany than this man signed (if he did not write) a manifesto of German theologians which told "evangelical Christians abroad" that the German "sword was bright and keen," that Germany was taking up arms to establish the justice of her cause and that ever through the storm and horror of the coming conflict the German people, with a calm conscience, would kneel and pray: "Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven."


One of the writers who performed the same kind of moral somersault was Gerhart Hauptmann, author of a Socialist drama called "The Weavers," and, rumour says, protege (what frightful irony!) of the Crown Prince, Hauptmann knew well (none better) that a vast proportion of the human family live perpetually on the borderland of want, and that of all who suffer by war the poor suffer most. Yet he wrote (and a degenerate son of the great Norwegian liberator, Bjornsen, published) a letter, in which, after telling the poor of his people that "heaven alone knew" why their enemies were assailing them, he called on them (in effect) to avenge unnameable atrocities, which he alleged, without a particle of proof, had been committed on innocent Germans living abroad, and then said, in allusion to Mr. Maeterlinck, "I can assure him that, although 'barbarous Germans,' we shall never be so cowardly as to massacre or martyr the Belgian women and children." This was written in August 1914, at the very hour, as the world now knows, when the German soldiers in Liege were shooting, bayoneting, and burning alive old men and little children, raping nuns in their convents and young girls in the open streets. But the invisible powers of evil have no mercy on their instruments after they have worked their will, and Time has turned them into objects of contempt.

Nor were the German people themselves, any more than their master-spirits and spokesmen, spared the shame of their duplicity in those early days of August 1914. A large group of them, including commercial and professional men, drew up a long address to the neutral countries, in which they said that down to the eleventh hour they had "never dreamt of war," never thought of depriving other nations of light and air or of thrusting anybody from his place. And yet the ink of their protest was not yet dry when they gave themselves the lie by showing that down to the last detail of preparation they had everything ready for the forthcoming struggle.

Englishmen who were in Berlin and Cologne on July 81, and August 1 (before any of the nations had declared war on Germany), could see what was happening, though no telegrams or newspapers had yet made known the news. A tingling atmosphere of joyous expectation in the streets; the cafes and beer-gardens crowded with civilians in soldiers' uniforms; orchestras striking up patriotic anthems; excited groups singing "Deutschland ueber Alles," or rising to their feet and jingling glasses; then the lights put out, and a general rush made for the railway stations—everybody equipped, and knowing his duty and his destination.


It was the old historic story of German duplicity, and the nations of Europe had no excuse for being surprised. When the Prussian Monarchy was first bestowed on the relatively humble family of the Hoehenzollerns, they found their territory for the most part sterile, the soil round Berlin and about Potsdam—the favourite residence of the Margraves—a sandy desert that could scarcely be made to yield a crop of rye or oats, so they set themselves to enlarge and enrich it by help of an army out of all proportion to the size and importance of their States. The results were inevitable. When war becomes the trade of a separate class it is natural that they should wish to pursue it at the first favourable opportunity of conquest. That opportunity came to Prussia when Charles VI died and the Archduchess Maria Theresa succeeded to her father by virtue of a law (the Pragmatic Sanction), to which all the Powers of Europe had subscribed. Frederick had subscribed to it. But, nevertheless, in the name of Prussia, without any proper excuse or even decent pretext, he took possession of Silesia, thereby robbing the ally whom he had bound himself to defend, and committing the same great crime of violating his pledged word, which Germany has now committed against Belgium.

But there was one difference between the outrages of 1740 and 1914. The great barrator made no hypocritical pretence of desiring peace. "Ambition, interest, the desire of making people talk about me carried the day, and I decided for war," he said. It was reserved for Harnack and Hauptmann, not to speak of the Kaiser, to cant about the responsibilities of "Kul-tur" (that harlot of the German dictionary, debased by all ignoble uses), about the hastening of the kingdom of heaven, and about the German sword being sanctified by God. But the old German Adam remained, and when, two days before the declaration of war with France, the German soldiers were flying to the Belgian frontier there was no thought of the Archduke Ferdinand or of the doddering old man on the Austrian throne, whose paternal heart had been sorely wounded. Germany was out to rob France of her colonies—to rob her, and the Germans knew it.

"A few centuries may have to run their course," said their own poet Goethe (who surely knew the German soul), "before it can be said of the German people, 'It is a long time since they were barbarians.'"

Such, then, were some of the events in the great drama of the war which took place in Germany before the rising of the curtain. Not a theologian, a philosopher, an historian, or a poet to recall the past of his country, to warn it not to repeat the crime of a century and a half before, which had stained its name for ever before the tribunals of man and God; not a statesman to remind a generation that was too young to remember 1870 of the miseries and horrors of war, for (alas for the welfare of the world!) the one great German voice that could have done so with searching and scorching eloquence (the voice of Bebel) had only just been silenced by the grave. And so it came to pass that Germany, in the last days of July 1914, presented the pitiful spectacle of a great nation being lured on to its moral death-agony amid canting appeals to the Almighty, and wild outbursts of popular joy.


Meantime what had been happening among ourselves? The far-off murmur of the approaching wind had been heard by all of us, but as none can hope to describe the effect on the whole Empire, perhaps each may be allowed to indicate the character of the warning as it came to his own ears. It was at Naples, not long after the event, that I heard how the late King had felt about his last visit to Berlin. I was then on my way home from Egypt, where I had spent some days at Mena, while Lord Roberts was staying there on his way back from the Soudan. He seemed restless and anxious. On two successive mornings I sat with him for a long hour in the shade of the terraces which overlook the Pyramids discussing the "German danger." After the great soldier had left for Cairo he wrote asking me to regard our conversations as confidential; and down to this moment I have always done so, but I see no harm now (quite the reverse of harm) in repeating the substance of what he said so many years ago on a matter of such infinite momentousness.

"Do you really attach importance to this scare of a German invasion?" I asked.

"I'm afraid I do," said Lord Roberts.

"You think an enemy army could be landed on our shores?"

"As things are now, yes, I think it could."

"Do you think you could land an army on the East Coast of England and march on to London?"

"Yes, I do."

"In a thick fog, of course?" "Without a fog," said Lord Roberts. After that he described in detail the measures we ought to take to make such an attack impossible and I hasten to add that, so far as I can see and know, the precautionary measures he recommended have all been taken since the outbreak of the war.


By that time I had, in common with the majority of my countrymen who travelled much abroad, been compelled to recognize the ever-increasing hostility of the German and British peoples whenever they encountered each other on the highways of the world—their constant cross-purposes on steamships, in railway trains, hotels, casinos, post and telegraph offices—making social intercourse difficult and friendship impossible. The overbearing manners of many German travellers, their aggressive and domineering selfishness, which always demanded the best seats, the best rooms, and the first attention, was year by year becoming more and more intolerable to the British spirit. It cannot be said that we acquiesced. Indeed, it must be admitted that our country-people usually met the German claims to be the supermen of Europe with rather unnecessary self-assertion. If an unmannerly German pushed before us at the counter of a booking-office we pushed him back; if he shouted over our shoulders at a telegraph office we told him to hold his tongue; and if, in stiflingly hot weather, he insisted (as he often did) on shutting up again and again the window of a railway carriage after we had opened it for a breath of air, we sometimes drove our elbow through the glass for final answer—as I saw an English barrister do one choking day on the journey between Jaffa and Jerusalem.

These were only the straws that told how the wind blew, but they were disquieting symptoms nevertheless to such of us as felt, with Professor Harnack and his colleagues at the Edinburgh Conference, that by blood, history, and faith the German and British peoples were brothers (ugly as it sounds to say so now), each more closely bound to the other in the world-task of civilization than with almost any other nation.

"If we are brothers we'll fight all the more fiercely for that fact," we thought, "and, God help us, we'll fight soon."


I was staying in a neutral country at an hotel much frequented by the German governing classes when an English newspaper proprietor, after a visit to Berlin, published in his most popular journal a map of a portion of Northern Europe in order to show at sight his view of the extent of the forthcoming German aggression. The paper was lying open between a group of gentlemen whose names have since become prominent in relation to the war when I stepped up to the table. The men were obviously angry, although laughing immoderately. "Look at that," said one of them, pointing to the map and running his finger down the coast of Holland and Belgium and France to Calais. "He knows, doesn't he?"

And then, after a general burst of derisive laughter, came a bitter attack on British journalism ("The scaremongering of that paper is doing more than anything in the world to make war between Germany and England"), a still fiercer and more bitter assault on our Lords of the Admiralty, who had lately proposed a year's truce in the building of battleships ("Tell your Mr. Churchill to mind his own business, and we'll mind ours"), and, finally, a passionate protest that Germany's object in increasing her navy was not to enlarge her empire, but merely to keep the seas open to her trade. "Why," said one of the men, "nine-tenths of my own business is with London, and if England could shut up our ships I should be a ruined man in a month." "Quite so," said another, "and so far as German people go that's the beginning and end of the whole matter."


We believed it. I am compelled to count myself among the number of my countrymen who through many years believed that story—that the accident of Germany's disadvantageous geographical position, not her desire to break British supremacy on the sea, made it necessary for her to enlarge her navy. I did my best to believe it when I had to sail through the Kiel Canal in a steamer from Lubeck to Copenhagen, which was forced to shoulder her way through an ever-increasing swarm of German battleships. I did my best to believe it when I had to sail under the threatening fortresses of Heligoland which stood anchored out at the mouth of the Bight like a mastiff at the end of his chain snarling at the sea. I did my best to believe it when I had to travel to Cologne by night, and the darkened railway carriages were lit up by fierce flashes from gigantic furnaces which were making mountains of munitions for the evil day when frail man would have to face the murderous slaughter of machine-guns. I did my best to believe it even in Berlin when German friends of the scholastic classes accounted for their tolerance of conscription and of the tyranny of clanking soldiery in the streets, the cafes, and the hotels on the ground of disciplinary usefulness rather than military necessity.

And then there was the human charm of some German homes to soothe away suspicion—the scholar's quiet house (beyond the clattering parade-ground at Potsdam) where we clinked glasses and drank "to all good friends in England," and the sweet simplicity of the little town in Westphalia, with its green fields and its sweetly-flowing river, where the nightingale sang all night long, and where, in the midst of musical societies, Goethe Societies and Shakespeare Societies, it was so difficult to think of Germany as a nation dreaming only of world-power and dominion. Even yet it strikes a chill to the heart to recall those German homes as scenes of prolonged duplicity, I prefer not to do so. But all the same I see now that the wings of war were already approaching them, and that the German people heard their far-off murmur long before ourselves—heard it and told us nothing, perhaps much less and worse than nothing.


Into such an unpromising atmosphere of national hostility the war came down on us, in July 1914, like a thunderbolt. In spite of grave warnings few or none in this country were at that moment giving a thought to it. On the contrary, we were thinking of all manner of immeasurably smaller things, for Great Britain, although governing more than one-fifth of the habitable globe, has an extraordinary capacity for becoming absorbed in the affairs of its two little islands. It was so in the autumn of 1914, when we thought Home Rule and Land Reform covered all our horizon, although a thunder-cloud that was to silence these big little guns had already gathered in the sky.

Perhaps it was not altogether our fault if secret diplomacy had too long concealed from us the storm that was so soon to break. That kind of surprise must never come to us again. Many and obvious may be the dangers of allowing the public to participate in delicate and difficult negotiations between nations, but if democracy has any rights surely the chief of them is to know step by step by what means its representatives are controlling its destiny. We did not hear what was happening in the Cabinets of Europe, under that miserable disguise of the Archduke's assassination, until the closing days of July. Consequently, we reeled under the danger that threatened us, and were not at first capable of comprehending the cause and the measure of it.

"What is this wretched conspiracy in Serbia to us, and why in God's name should we have to fight about it?" we thought. Or perhaps, "We've always been told that treaties between nations are safeguards of peace, but here, heaven help us, they are dragging us into war."

So general was this sentiment of revolt during the last tragic days that it is commonly understood to have extended to the Cabinet. Six members are said to have opposed war. One of them, a philosopher and historian of high distinction, could not see his way with his colleagues, and retired from their company. Another, who came from the working-classes, is understood to have resigned from thought of the sufferings which any war, however justifiable, must inevitably inflict upon the poor. A third, a lawyer in a position of the utmost authority, is believed to have had grave misgivings about our legal right to call Germany to account. And I have heard that a fourth, who had been prominent as a pacifist in the days of an earlier conflict, had written a letter to a colleague as late as the evening of August 1, saying that a war declared merely on grounds of problematical self-interest would create such an outcry in Great Britain as had never been heard here before—leaving us a derided and, therefore, easily-vanquished people.


But chance plays the largest part in the drama of life, and accident often confounds the plans of men. Not feeling entirely sure of his letter the pacifist Minister put it in his pocket when he dressed that night to go out to dinner. And when he sat down at table he found himself seated next to the able, earnest, and passionately patriotic Minister for Belgium. Perhaps he was urging some objections to British intervention, when his neighbour said: "But what about Belgium? You have promised to protect her, and if you don't do so she will be destroyed."

That raised visions of the work of the little nations; memories of their immense contributions to human progress from the days of Israel downwards; thoughts of the vast loss to liberty, to morality, to religion, and to all the other fruits of the unfettered soul that would come to the world from the over-riding of the weak peoples by the strong. The result was swift and sure—the letter in the Minister's pocket never reached the important person to whom it was addressed.

Only God knows whether this period, however short, of indecision among our people, and particularly among our responsible statesmen, with the consequent delay in dispatching a determined warning to Germany ("Hands off Belgium,") contributed to the making of the war. But it is at least an evidence of our desire for peace, and a sufficient assurance that if unseen powers were working on our side also, they were the powers of good. Yet so strangely do the invisible forces confound the plans of men that the crowning proof of this came two days later—on August 8, in the Commons—when our Foreign Minister defined the British position, and practically declared for war.

It is not idle rumour that the Government went down to the House that day expecting to be resisted. The sequel was a startling surprise. Sir Edward Grey's speech was far from a great oration. It gave the effect of being unprepared as to form, so loosely did the vehicle hang together, the sentences sometimes coming with strange inexactitude for the tongue of one whose written word in dispatches has a clarity and precision that have never been excelled. But it had the supreme qualities of manifest sincerity and transparent honesty, and it derived its overwhelming effect from one transcendent characteristic of which the speaker himself may have been quite unconscious. It spoke to the British Empire as to a British gentleman. "You can't stand by and do nothing while the friend by your side is being beaten to his knees. You can't let a mischievous and unprincipled buccaneer tread into the dust the neighbour whom he has joined with you in swearing to protect?" There was no resisting that Our own interest might leave us cold; we might even be sceptical of our danger. But we were put on our honour, and every man in the House with the instincts of a gentleman was swept away by that appeal as by a flood.


Then came our Prime Minister's passionate, fiery, yet dignified and even exalted denunciation of the proposal of Germany that we should trade with her in our neutrality by committing treachery to France and Belgium—("To accept your infamous offer would be to cover the glorious name of England with undying shame"); then the announcement of the ultimatum sent by Great Britain to Germany demanding an assurance that the neutrality of Belgium should be respected; and finally that speech of John Redmond's, which, spoken on the very top of the crisis that had threatened to bring a fratricidal war into Ireland, has been, perhaps, the most thrilling and dramatic utterance yet produced by the war. "I tell the Government they may take every British soldier out of Ireland to meet the enemy of the Empire. Ireland's sons will take care of Ireland. The Catholics of the South will stand shoulder to shoulder with their Protestant fellow-countrymen of the North to fight the common foe."

It was another appeal to the gentlemen in the British nation, and in one moment it swept the bitter waters of the Home Rule crisis out of all sight and memory. I have heard a Cabinet Minister say that, as he listened to Redmond's speech, he was surprised at the silence with which it was received. "Why isn't the House cheering?" he had asked himself. But all at once he had felt his eyes swimming and his throat tightening, and then he had understood.


Our nation knew everything now, and had made her choice, yet the twelve hours' interval between noon and midnight of August 4 were perhaps the gravest moments in her modern history. I am tempted, not without some misgivings, but with the confidence of a good intention, to trespass so far on personal information as to lift the curtain on a private scene in the tremendous tragic drama.

The place is a room in the Prime Minister's house in Downing Street. The Prime Minister himself and three of the principal members of his Cabinet are waiting there for the reply to the ultimatum which they sent to Germany at noon. The time for the reply expires at midnight. It is approaching eleven o'clock. In spite of her "infamous proposal," the Ministers cannot even yet allow themselves to believe that Germany will break her pledged word.

She would be so palpably in the wrong. It is late and she has not yet replied, but she will do so—she must. There is more than an hour left, and even at the last moment the telephone bell may ring and then the reply of Germany, as handed to the British Ambassador in Berlin, will have reached London.

It is a calm autumn evening, and the windows are open to St. James's Park, which lies dark and silent as far as to Buckingham Palace in the distance. The streets of London round about the official residence are busy enough and quivering with excitement. We British people do not go in solid masses surging and singing down our Corso, or light candles along the line of our boulevards. But nevertheless all hearts are beating high—in our theatres, our railway stations, our railway trains, our shops, and our houses. Everybody is thinking, "By twelve o'clock to-night Germany has got to say whether or not she is a perjurer and a thief."

Meanwhile, in the silent room overlooking the park time passes slowly. In spite of the righteousness of our cause, it is an awful thing to plunge a great empire into war. The miseries and horrors of warfare rise before the eyes of the Ministers, and the sense of personal responsibility becomes almost insupportable. Could anything be more awful than to have to ask oneself some day in the future, awakening in the middle of the night perhaps, after rivers of blood have been shed, "Did I do right after all?" The reply to the ultimatum has not even yet arrived, and the absence of a reply is equivalent to a declaration of war.


Suddenly one of the little company remembers something which everybody has hitherto forgotten—the difference of an hour between the time in London and the time in Berlin. Midnight by mid-European time would be eleven o'clock in London. Germany would naturally understand the demand for a reply by midnight to mean midnight in the country of dispatch. Therefore at eleven o'clock by London time the period for the reply will expire. It is now approaching eleven.

As the clock ticks out the remaining minutes the tension becomes terrible. Talk slackens. There are long pauses. The whole burden of the frightful issues involved for Great Britain, France, Belgium, Russia, Germany—for Europe, for the world, for civilization, for religion itself, seems to be gathered up in these last few moments. If war comes now it will be the most frightful tragedy the world has ever witnessed. Twenty millions of dead perhaps, and civil life crippled for a hundred years. Which is it to be, peace or war? Terrible to think that as they sit there the electric wires may be flashing the awful tidings, like a flying angel of life or death, through the dark air all over Europe.

The four men are waiting for the bell of the telephone to ring. It does not ring, and the fingers of the clock are moving. The world seems to be on tiptoe, listening for a thunderstroke of Fate. The Ministers at length sit silent, rigid, almost petrified, looking fixedly at floor or ceiling. Then through the awful stillness of the room and the park outside comes the deep boom of "Big Ben." Boom, boom, boom! No one moves until the last of the eleven strokes has gone reverberating through the night. Then comes a voice, heavy with emotion, yet firm with resolve, "It's war."

When the clock struck again (at midnight) Great Britain had been at war for an hour without knowing it.

If I have done wrong in lifting the curtain on this private scene, I ask forgiveness for the sake of the purpose I put it to—that of showing that it was not in haste, not in anger, but with an awful sense of responsibility to Great Britain and to humanity that our responsible Ministers drew the sword of our country.


If Mr. Maeterlinck's theory is sound, that this war is the visible reflection of a vast, invisible conflict, what a gigantic battle of the unseen forces of good and evil must have been raging throughout the universe when Europe rose on the morning of August 5, 1914! Think what had happened. While the light was dawning, the sun was rising, and the birds were singing over Europe, the greater nations were preparing to turn a thousand square miles of it into a gigantic slaughter-house. After forty years of unbroken peace, in which civilization, as represented by law, science, surgery, medicine, art, music, literature, and above all religion, in their ancient and central home, had been striving to lift up man to the place he is entitled to in the scheme of creation, war had suddenly stepped in to drag him back to the condition of the barbarian. From this day onward he was to live in holes in the ground, to be necessarily unclean, inevitably verminous, and liable to loathsome diseases. Although hitherto law-abiding, and perhaps even pious, with an ever-developing sense of the value and sanctity of human life, he was henceforward to take joy in the destruction of thousands of his fellow-creatures by devilish machines of death, and not to shrink from an opportunity of thrusting his bayonet down the throat of his enemy. He was to set fire to churches, to throw images of Christ into the road, and, showing no mercy to old men and women and children, to destroy all and spare none. And why? Ostensibly because one quite commonplace Austrian gentleman had been foully murdered, but really because a vain and ambitious and rapidly increasing nation, living on an arid and insufficient soil, had come to consider themselves the master-spirits of humanity, and therefore entitled to possess the earth, or at least give law to all other nations.

"We are doing wrong, but it is necessary to do wrong, and we shall make amends as soon as our military necessities have been served."


What a mockery! What a waste! What a hideous reversion! What a confession of blank failure on the part of civilization, including morality and religion! But, happily, the invisible powers of evil had not got it all their own way, even on that morning of August 5. Out of the very shadow of battle great things were already being born among the children of men, and chief among them were the spirits of sacrifice and brotherhood. Even the cruel loss of nearly all that makes human life worth living—cleanliness and purity and exemption from foul disease—could be borne for the defence of truth and freedom. And then it was worth a world of suffering to realize the first-fruits of that golden age of brotherhood among all the nations of the earth (except those of our enemy) which has been the peace-dream of humanity for countless centuries.

We in Great Britain have no reason to be ashamed of how our country answered the call. A few years before the outbreak of war I talked about conscription with a British admiral in the cabin of his flagship. "There's not the slightest necessity for it in this country," said the admiral. The moment war was declared the whole nation would rise to it. A great thrill would pass over our people from end to end of the land, and we should have millions flocking to the colours.

The old sailor proved to be a true prophet. None of us can ever forget the spontaneous response in August 1914 to the cry, "Your King and country need you." To such as, like myself, are on the shadowed side of the hill of life, and therefore too old for service, it was a profoundly moving thing to see how swiftly our immense voluntary army sprang (as by a miracle) out of the earth, to look at the long lines of young soldiers passing with their regular step through the streets of London, to think of the situations given up, of the young wives and little children living at home on shortened means, and of the risk taken of life being lost just when it is most precious and most sweet.

What was the motive power that impelled the young manhood of Great Britain to this tremendous sacrifice? The thought of our country's danger? The danger to France? The danger to Belgium? The fact that a man named Palmerston had pledged his solemn word for them long years before they were born, or even the mothers who bore them were born, that they would go to their deaths rather than allow a great crime to be committed or England's oath be broken? I don't know. I do not believe anybody knows. But I am not ashamed of my tears when I remember it all, and sure I am that in those first critical days of the war the invisible powers of justice must have been fighting on our side.


Perhaps the first of the flashes as of lightning by which we have seen the drama of the past 365 days is that which shows us the part played by the British Navy. What a part it has been! Do we even yet recognize its importance? Have our faithful and loyal Allies a full sense of its tremendous effect on the fortunes of the campaign? On Sunday, August 2, two days before the dispatch of Great Britain's ultimatum to Germany, we saw thousands of our naval reserve flying off by special boats and trains to their ships on our east and south coasts. On Monday, August 8, the British Navy had taken possession of the North Sea.

It was a legitimate act of peace, yet never in this world was there a more complete, if bloodless, victory. The great German North Sea fleet, which (according to a calculation) had been constructed at a cost of L300,000,000 sterling, to keep open the seas of the world to German trade; the fleet which had, in our British view, been built with the sole purpose of menacing British shores, was shut up in one day within the narrow limits of its own waters!

In the light of what has happened since it is not too much to say that if the British Fleet had taken up its cue only forty-eight hours later the north coast of France would have been bombarded, every town on our east coast from Aberdeen to Dover would have been destroyed, and Lord Roberts's prophecy of German invasion would have been fulfilled. But, thank God, the watchdogs of the British Navy were there to prevent that swift surprise. They are there (or elsewhere) still, silently riding the grey waters in all seasons and all weathers, waiting and watching and biding their time, and meanwhile (in spite of the occasional marauding of submarines, the offal of fighting craft) keeping the oceans free to all ships except those of our enemies. And now, when we hear it said, as we sometimes do, that Great Britain holds only thirty-five miles of land on the battle-front in Flanders, let us lift our heads and answer, "Yes, but she holds thirty-five thousand miles of sea."


One of the earliest, and perhaps one of the most inspiring, of the flashes as of lightning whereby we saw the drama of the war was that which revealed the part played by Belgium. Has history any record of greater heroism and greater suffering? Such courage for the right! Such strength of soul against overwhelming odds and the criminal suddenness of surprise! Although the world has been told by Germany's spokesmen, including Herr Ballin, Prince von Buelow, and even Professor Harnack (all "honourable men," and the last of them a churchman), that down to a few days before the outbreak of hostilities "not one human being" among them had "dreamt of war," it is the fact that within a few hours of the dispatch of Germany's ultimatum, to Belgium, before the ink of it could yet be dry and while the period of England's ultimatum in defence of Belgian integrity was still unexpired, the German legions were attacking Liege.

It was a cowardly and contemptible assault, but what a resistance it met with! A little peace-loving, industrial nation, infinitely small and almost utterly untrained, compared with the giant in arms assailing it, having no injury to avenge, no commerce to capture, no territory to annex, desiring only to be left alone in the exercise of its independence, stood up for six days against the invading horde, and hurled it back.

But war is a crude and clumsy instrument for the defence of the right, and after a flash of Belgium's unexampled bravery we were compelled to witness many flashes of her terrible sufferings. Liege fell before overwhelming numbers, then Namur, Ter-monde, Brussels, Louvain, and, last of all, Antwerp. What a spectacle of horror! The harvests of Belgium trodden into the earth, her beautiful cities and ancient villages given up to the flames, her historic monuments, that had been associated with the learning and piety of centuries, razed to the ground; and, above everything in its pathos and pain, the multitudes of her people, old men, old women, young girls, and little children in wooden shoes, after the unnameable atrocities of a brutalized, infuriated, and licentious soldiery, flying before their faces as before a plague!


But there were flashes of almost divine light in the black darkness of Belgium's tragedy, and perhaps the brightest of them surrounded the person of her King. What King Albert did in those dark days of August 1914, to keep the soul of his nation alive in the midst of the immense sorrow of her utter overthrow his nation alone can fully know. But we who are not Belgians were thrilled again and again by the inspired tones of a great Spirit speaking to his subjects with that authority, dignity, and courage which alone among free nations are sufficient to unite the people to the Throne.

"A country which defends its liberties in the face of tyranny commands the respect of all. Such a country does not perish." What King Albert did for Belgium in the stand he made against German aggression is partly known already, and will leave its record in history, but what he did at the same time for kingship throughout the world, as well as in his country, can only be realized by the few who are aware that almost at the moment of the outbreak of war the Belgian Courts (much to the unmerited humiliation of Belgium) were on the eve of such disclosures in relation to the life and death of the King's predecessor as would certainly have shaken the credit of monarchy for centuries.

Nobody who ever met the late King Leopold could have had any doubt that he was a great man, if greatness can be separated from goodness and measured solely by energy of intellect and character. I see him now as I saw him in a garden of a house on the Riviera, the huge, unwieldy creature, with the eyes of an eagle, the voice of a bull and the flat tread of an elephant, and I recall the thought with which I came away: "Thank God that man is only the King of a little country! If he had been the sovereign of a great State he would have become the scourge of the world."

After King Leopold's death, accident brought me knowledge of astounding facts of his last days which were shortly to be exposed in Court—of the measure of his unnatural hatred of his children; of his schemes to deprive them of their rightful inheritance; of his relations with certain of his favourites and his death-bed marriage to one of them; of the circumstances attending the surgical operation which immediately preceded the extinction of his life; of the burning of endless documents of doubtful credit during the night before the knife was used; of the intrigues of women of questionable character over the dying man's body to share the ill-got gold he had earned in the Congo, and finally of his end, not in his palace, but in a little hidden chalet, alone save for one scheming woman and one calculating priest. What a story it was, whether true or false, or (as is most probable) partly true and partly false, of shame, greed, lust, and life-long duplicity! And all this dark tale was (one way or other) to be told in the cold light of open Court, to the general discredit of monarchy, by showing the world how contemptible may be some of the creatures who control the destinies of mankind.

But the war and King Albert's part in it saved Belgium from that unmerited obloquy. The modest, retiring, studious, almost shy but heroic young sovereign who, with his valiant little band, is fighting by the side of our own king's soldiers, and the soldiers of the Republic of France, has sustained the highest traditions of kingship. He may have lost his country at the hands of a great Power, drunk with pride, but he has won Immortality. He may have no more land left to him than his tent is pitched upon, but his spiritual empire is as wide as the world. He may be a king without a kingdom, but he still reigns over a kingdom of souls.


The next flash as of lightning that revealed to us the progress of the drama of the past 365 days came at the end of the first month of the war with the terrible story of Mons. That touched us yet more closely than the tragedy of Belgium, for it seemed at first to be our own tragedy. Between the departure of an army and the first news of victory or defeat there is always a time of exhausting suspense. At what moment our first Expeditionary Force had left England no one quite knew, but after we learned that it had landed in France we waited with anxious hearts and listened with strained ears.

We heard the tramp of the gigantic German army, pouring through the streets of Brussels, fully equipped down to its kitchens, its smoking coffee-wagons, its corps of gravediggers, and, of course, its cuirassiers in burnished helmets that were shining in the autumn sun. The huge, interminable, apparently irresistible multitude! Regiment after regiment, battalion after battalion, going on and on for hours, and even days—the mighty legions of the nation that a few days before had "never so much as dreamt" of war!

At last we had news of our men. Against overwhelming odds they had fought like heroes—why shouldn't they, since they were Englishmen?—but had been compelled to fall back at length, and were now retreating rapidly, some reports said flying in confusion, broken and done. What? Was it possible? Our army thrown back in disorder? Our first army, too, the flower of the fighting men of the world? It was too monstrous, too awful!

The news was cruelly, and even wickedly, exaggerated, but nevertheless it did us good. He knows the British character very imperfectly who does not see that the qualities in which it is unsurpassed among the races of mankind are those with which it meets adversity and confronts the darkest night. Within a few days of the report that our soldiers were falling back from Mons, the old cry "Your King and country need you" went through the land with a new thrill, and hundreds of thousands of free men leapt to the relief of the flag.

There has been nothing like it in the history of any nation. And it is hard to say which is the more moving manifestation of that moment in the great drama of the war—the spontaneous response of the poor who sprang forward to defend their country, though they had no more material property in it than the right to as much of its soil as would make their graves, or the splendid reply of the rich whose lands were an agelong possession, and often the foundation of their titles and honours.


What startling surprises! We of the lower, the middle, or the upper-middle classes had come to believe that too many of the young men of our nobility had grown effeminate in idleness and selfish pleasure indulged in on the borderland of a kind of aristocratic Bohemia, but, behold! they were fighting and dying with the bravest. We had thought too many of their young women (as thoughtless and capricious creatures of fashion) had sacrificed the finest bloom of modest and courageous womanhood in luxury and self-indulgence; but, lo! they were hurrying to the battlefields as nurses, and there facing without flinching the scenes of blood and horror, of foul sights and stenches, which make the bravest man's heart turn sick.

Some of the scenes at home in those last days of August and early days of September were yet more affecting. The first of our casualty lists had been published, and they were terrible. They hit the old people hardest, the old fathers and old mothers who had given all, and had nothing left—not even a little child to live for. At the railway stations, when fresh troops were leaving for the front, you saw sights which searched the heart so much that you felt ashamed to look, feeling they opened sanctuaries in which God's eye alone should see.

Old Lady So-and-So seeing her youngest son off to Flanders. She has lost two of her sons in the war already, and Archie is the last of them. The dear old darling! It is pitiful to see her in her deep black, struggling to keep up before the boy. But when the train has left the platform and she can no longer wave her handkerchief she breaks down utterly. "I've seen the last of him," she says; "something tells me I've seen the last of him. And now I've given everything I have to the country."

Ah! that's what you have all got to do, or be prepared to do, you brave mothers of England, if you have to defeat a desperate enemy, who stoops to any method, any crime.

Then old Lord Such-a-One at Victoria to meet the body of his only son being brought back from the hospital at Boulogne. How proud he had been of his boy! He could remember the day he captained for Eton at Lord's, or perhaps rowed stroke—and won—for Cambridge. And now on the field of Flanders.... He had seen it coming, though. He had thought of it when the war broke out. "Ours is an old family," he had told himself, "four hundred years old, and my son is the last of us. If I let him go to the war my line may end, my family may stop... but then liberty must go on, civilization must go on, and... England!"

Yes, it must be night before the British star will shine.


Perhaps the next great flash as of lightning whereby we saw the drama of the past 365 days was that which revealed at its sublimest moment the part played by France. In those evil days of July 1914, when German diplomacy was carrying on the indecent pretence of quarrelling with France about Austria's right to punish Serbia for the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand, there were Frenchmen still living who had vivid memories of three bloody campaigns. Some could remember the Crimean War. More could recall the Italian War of 1859, which brought the delirious news of the victory of Magenta, and closed with Solferino, and the triumphant march home through the Place de la Bastille, and down the Rue de la Paix. And vast numbers were still alive who could remember 1870, when the Emperor was defeated at Worth and conquered at Sedan; when Paris was surrounded by a Prussian army, when the booming of cannon could be heard on the boulevards; when tenderly nurtured women, who had never thought to beg their bread, had been forced by the hunger of their children to stand in long queues at the doors of the bakers' shops; when the city was at length starved into submission, and the proud French people, with their immemorial heritage of fame, were compelled to permit the glittering Prussian helmets to go shining down their streets.

A new generation had been born to France since even the last of these events, but was it with a light heart that she took up the gage which Germany so haughtily threw down? Indeed, no! Never had France, the bright, the brilliant, the cheerful-hearted, shown the world a graver face.

A few students across the Seine might shout "A Berlin! A Berlin!" just as our boys in khaki chalked up the same address on their gun carriages. Idlers in blouses along the quays might scream the "Marseillaise." Gangs of ruffians in back streets might break the windows of the shops of German tradespeople. Some bitter old campaigners might talk about revenge. But when the drums beat for the French regiments to start away for Alsace and the Belgian frontier, the heart of France was calm and steadfast.

"This is a fight for the right, for France, and for the freedom of our souls!"


Then when the men had gone there came that anxious silence in which every ear was strained to catch the first cry from the army. Would it be victory or defeat? In the strength of her new-born spirit France was ready for either fate. The streets of Paris were darkened; the theatres were shut up; the cafes were ordered to close at nine o'clock; the sale of absinthe was prohibited that Frenchmen might have every faculty alert to meet their destiny; and the principal hotels were transformed into hospitals for the wounded that would surely come.

They came. We were allowed to see their coming, and in those early days of the war, before the Red Cross companies had got properly to work, the return of the first of the fallen among the French soldiery made a terrible spectacle. At suburban stations, generally in the middle of the night, long lines of third-class railway carriages, as well as rectangular, box-shaped cattle wagons, such as in conscript countries are used for purposes of mobilization, would draw up out of the darkness.

Instantly hundreds of pale, wasted, generally bearded, and often wounded faces would appear at the windows, crying out for coffee or chocolate. Then the cattle wagons would be unbolted, and the great doors thrown back, disclosing six or eight men in each, lying outstretched on straw, with their limbs swathed in blood-stained bandages, and their eyes glazed with pain. They were the brave fellows who, a few weeks before, had gone to Flanders in the pride and prime of their strength. In some cases they had lain like that for two whole days on their long way back from the fighting line, with no one to give them meat or drink, with nothing to see in the darkness of their moving tomb and nothing to hear, except the grinding of the iron wheels beneath them, and the cries of the comrades by their side.

"Mon Dieu! Que de souffrances! Qui l'aurait cru possible? O mon Dieu, aie pitie de moi."


Still the soul of France did not fail her. It heard the second approach of that monstrous Prussian horde, which, like a broad, irresistible tide, sweeping across one half of Europe, came down, down, down from Mons until the thunder of its guns could again be heard on the boulevards. And then came the great miracle! Just as the sea itself can rise no higher when it has reached the top of the flood, so the mighty army of Germany had to stop its advance thirty kilometres north of Paris, and when it stirred again it had to go back. And back and back it went before the armies of France, Britain, and Belgium, until it reached a point at which it could dig itself into the earth and hide in a long serpentine trench stretching from the Alps to the sea. Only then did the spirit of France draw breath for a moment, and the next flash as of lightning showed her offering thanks and making supplications before the white statue of Jeanne d'Arc in the apse of the great cathedral of Notre Dame, sacred to innumerable memories. On the Feast of St Michael 10,000 of the women of Paris were kneeling under the dark vault, and on the broad space in front of the majestic facade, to call on the Maid of Orleans to % intercede with the Virgin for victory. It was a great and grandiose scene, recalling the days when faith was strong and purer. Old and young, rich and poor, every woman with some soul that was dear to her in that inferno at the front—the Motherhood of France was there to pray to the Mother of all living to ask God for the triumph of the right.

"Jesus, hear our cry for our country! Justice for France, O God!"

And in the spirit of that prayer the soul of France still lives.


The next of the flashes as of lightning that revealed the drama of the past 365 days came to us at Christmas. The war had then been going on five months, showing us many strange and terrible sights, but nothing stranger and more terrible than the changed aspect of warfare itself. A battlefield had ceased to be a scene of pomp and of personal prowess, with the charging of galloping cavalry, the clash of glittering arms, and the advancing and retiring of vast numbers of soldiery. It was now a broad and desolate waste, in which no human figure was anywhere visible as far as the eye could reach—a monstrous scar on the face of the globe, such as we see in volcanic countries, only differing in the evidence of design that came of long, parallel lines of turned-up soil, which were the trenches wherein hundreds of thousands of men lived under the surface of the ground. Over this barren waste there was almost perpetual smoke, and through the smoke a deafening cannonading, which came of the hurling through the air of scythes of steel, called shells. Sometimes the shells were burying themselves unbroken in the empty earth, but too often they were scouring the trenches, where they were bursting into jagged parts and sending up showers of horrible fragments which had once been the limbs of living men.

Such was warfare by machinery as the world caught its first, full, horrified sight of it between the beginning of August and the end of December 1914. But even out of that maelstrom of horror there had been glimpses of great things—great heroisms, great victories, and great proofs of the power to endure. A rigid censorship, rightly designed to keep back from the enemy the information that would endanger the lives of our soldiers, was also keeping us in ignorance of many glorious incidents of the war such as would have thrilled us up to our throbbing throat. But some of them could not possibly be concealed, so we heard of the gallant stand of the dauntless sons of our daughter Canada, and we saw our great old warrior, Lord Roberts, going out to the front in his eighty-third year to visit his beloved Indian troops, dying as was most fit on the battlefield, within sound of the guns in the war he had foretold, and then being brought home, borne through the crowded streets of London and buried under the dome of St. Paul's, amid the homage of his Bang and people.


Then, as the year deepened towards winter, the rains came, torrential rains such as we thought we had never known the like of before. We heard that the trenches were flooded, and that our soldiers were eating, sleeping, and fighting ankle-deep (sometimes knee-deep) in water. At night, on going to our white beds at home, we had remorseful visions of those slimy red ruts in Flanders where our boys were lying out in the drenching rain under the heavy darkness of the sky. It was hard to believe that human strength could sustain itself against such cruel conditions, and indeed it often failed.

Towards Christmas tens of thousands of our men had to be brought home to our hospitals, many of them wounded, but not a few suffering from maladies which made them unfit for military service. The accident of being asked to distribute presents enabled me to see and talk with hundreds of them. It was a sweet and exhilarating yet rather nerve-racking experience. These young fellows, who had looked on death in its most horrible aspects, having had it for their duty to kill as many Germans as possible, and then to eat and sleep as if nothing had occurred—had they been degraded, brutalized, lowered in the scale of human creatures by their awful ordeal?

The sequel surprised me. The veil of mist with which a London winter enshrouds the beginnings of night and day had only just risen when on Christmas morning I reached the wounded soldiers' ward in the first of the hospitals I visited. The sweet place was decked out with holly and mistletoe. Forty or fifty men were lying there in their beds, some bandaged about the head, a few about the face, more about the body, arms, and legs. None of them seemed to be in serious pain, and nearly all were cheerful, even bright, boyish, and almost childlike. What stories they had to tell of the inferno they had come from! It was hell, infernal hell. They would go back, of course, when they were better, and had to do so, but if anybody said he wanted to go back he was telling a damn'd lie.

One boy, scarcely out of his teens, with soft, womanly eyes, light hair, and a face that made me sure he must be the living image of his mother, had had a narrow escape. After being wounded he had been taken prisoner to a farmhouse. Nobody there had done anything for him, and at length, after many hours, watching his opportunity, he had crept into the darkness and got back to the British trenches by crawling for nearly a quarter of a mile on hands and knees.

Another young soldier, an Irishman, told me a brave story, such as might have been allowed, I thought, to scratch and scrape its way through the thorn hedge of the strictest censorship. It was a story of the great days before the armies had dug themselves into the earth like rabbits. Perhaps I had heard something about it? I had. Eight hundred of his cavalry regiment had ridden full gallop into a solid block of the enemy, making a way through them as wide as Sackville Street. At length the Germans in front had dropped their rifles and held up their hands, whereupon our men had ceased to slay. But, being unable to rein in their frantic horses, they had been compelled to gallop on. Then, while their backs were turned, the treacherous Huns had picked up their rifles and fired on them from behind, killing many of our best men.

"And what did you do then?" I asked.

"Turned back and——"

"And what?"

"Took one man alive, sor."

"And the rest?"

"Left them there, sor."

"And how many of you got back?"

"Less than two hundred, sor."


Then Christmas in the trenches—we had glimpses of that, too. The people who governed nations from their Parliament Houses might have doubts about the peace-dream of the poets, the Utopia of universal brotherhood which gleams somewhere ahead in the far future of humanity, but the soldiers on the battlefields, even in the welter of blood and death had somehow heard the call of it.

The appeal of the Pope for a truce to hostilities during the days sacred to the Christian faith had fallen on deaf ears in the Cabinets of Europe. In that zone of mutual deception which is another name for war, neither of the belligerents could trust the other not to take an unfair advantage of any respite from slaying that might be called in the name of Christ, and, therefore, the armies must continue to fight. But the men in the trenches had found for them-selves a better way. When Christmas Eve came they began—German and British—to talk about Christmas Eves which they had spent at home. Visions arose of crowded streets, of shops decorated with holly and mistletoe, of churches with little candle-lit Nativities, of Christmas-trees at home laden with fairy lamps and presents, of children sitting up late to dance and laugh and then hanging up their stockings before going to bed to dream of Santa Claus, of church bells ringing for midnight mass, and, last of all, of the "waits" by the old cross in the market-place in the midst of the winter frost and snow.

Suddenly in one of the trenches some of the soldiers began to sing. They sang a Christmas carol, "While shepherds watched their flocks by night." The soldiers in the parallel trenches of the enemy heard it, knew what it was, and joined in with another Christmas carol, sung in their own language. In a little while both sides were singing, each in its turn, listening and replying, all along the two dark gullies that stretched across blood-stained Europe. Then Chinese lanterns were lit and stuck up on the head of the trenches, and salutations were shouted across the narrow ground between. "Merry Christmas to you, Fritz, old man!" "Same to you, Tommy!" And then next morning, Christmas morning, in the grey light of the late dawn, some daring soul, clambering over the trench head, marched boldly up to the line of the enemy with the salutation of the sacred day. In another moment everybody was up and out, shaking hands, and posing for photographs, friend and foe, German and British.

After a while they became aware that the ground they were standing on was like an unroofed charnel-house, littered over with the bodies of their unburied dead. So they set themselves to cover up their comrades in the earth, never asking which was British and which German, but laying them all together in the everlasting brotherhood of death—that English boy whose mother was waiting for him in England, and this German lad whose young wife was weeping in his German home.

My God, why do men make wars?


But perhaps, as Zola says, it is only the soft-hearted philosophers who are loud in their curses of war, and the truer wisdom was that of the stoical ancients, who could look with indifference on the massacre of millions. To keep manly, to remind ourselves that the generations come and go, that after all people die, and that more die one year than another—this should be the wise man's way of reconciling himself to the inhumanities of war. It is horrible doctrine, but certainly nature seems to speak with that voice, and hence the pang that came to us with the next great flash as of lightning, which showed us the battle-front at the beginning of the spring.

The long lines in the West had hardly changed so much as a single point to north or south since October 1914. Yet what horrors of conflict the intervening months had witnessed, bloody in their progress, though barren in their results! The storms of the spring (which in much of Northern Europe is only another name for a second winter) had gone through it all. Our soldiers had suffered frightfully, and some of us at home, awakening in the middle of stormy nights, had thought we heard the booming of far-off guns under the thunder of the sky.

Three millions of men were dead by this time, and that belt of green country, which many of us had crossed with light hearts a score of times, was nothing now but a vast graveyard stretching from the foot of the Swiss mountains to the margin of the North Sea. Here a charred and blackened mass of stones, which had once been a group of houses; there a cottage by the roadside, once sweet and pretty under its mantle of wild roses, now hideous with a gaping hole torn in its walls, and its little bed visible behind curtains that used to be white. And yet Nature was going on the same as ever—hardly giving a hint that the Great Death had passed that way. Our boys at the front wrote home that the leaves were beginning to show on the trees, that the grass was growing again, and that in the lulls of the cannonading they could hear the birds singing.


We found it heart-breaking. But it has been always so. I was in Naples during the whole period of the last great eruption of Vesuvius, and, looking through the gloom of the heavens, piled high with the whorls of fire and smoke that were covering the Vesuvian valleys and villages with a grey shroud, waist deep, of volcanic dust, I thought the face of Nature in that sweet spot could never be the same again; but when I went back to it a year later I could see no difference. I sailed south through the Straits of Messina a few weeks before the earthquake, and, returning north a few months later, I looked eagerly for the change which I imagined must have been made by the frightful upheaval of the earth that had killed hundreds of thousands, and shaken the soul of the entire human family, but I could see no change at all, even through the strongest field-glasses, until I came within sight of the waste and wreckage of the little works of men. Yes, Nature goes her own way, winter and summer, seedtime and harvest, healing her own wounds, but taking no thought of ours.

Yet, cruel as Nature seemed to be at the beginning of the spring, it was not so cruel as man. With the better weather our enemies began to devise and put into operation new and more devilish methods of warfare. Perhaps this was a result of their fear, for there is no cruelty so cruel as the cruelty that comes of fear, and no inhumanity so inhuman. Having expressed themselves as shocked by our alleged use of dum-dum bullets, they were now ransacking their laboratory for gases that would burst the lungs of our soldiers, and for inflammable oils that would set them afire as if they were criminals tarred and feathered and tied to a stake. Their battleships, built to fight craft of their own kind, or at least fortresses capable of replying to their fire, were now sent out to bombard innocent watering-places lying breast open to the sea. Their air-craft, constructed for reconnaissances, were ordered to drop bombs out of the clouds on to sleeping cities in the darkness of the night. And their submarines, tolerated by international courts only as weapons of attack on warships, were authorized to sink harmless merchantmen, without any word of warning, or any effort to save life. Could scientific knowledge under the direction of moral insanity go one step farther? Flying in the highest sky, hiding behind the densest clouds, stealing across the heavens in the dark hours, dropping fireballs on to the silent earth, sneaking back in the dawn; and then sailing through the womb of the great deep, rising like a serpent to spit death at innocent ships, diving to avoid destruction and scudding away under cover of the empty sea—what a spectacle of divine power at the service of devilish passion! It was difficult to believe that our enemies had not gone mad. They were no longer fighting like men, but like demons.


The crowning horror of Germany's barbarities came with the sinking of the Lusitania.

Perhaps nothing less shocking could have made us see how much less cruel Nature is at her worst than man in his madness may be. Three years before the Titanic had been sunk on a clear and quiet night, because a great iceberg formed in the frozen north had floated silently down to where, crossing the ship's course in mid-Atlantic, it struck her the slanting blow that sent her to the bottom. Thus a great, blind, irresistible force, operating without malice or design, had in that case destroyed more than a thousand human lives. But when the Lusitania was sunk in broad daylight, and nearly as many persons perished, it was because our brother man, in the bitterness of his heart and the cruelty of his fear, had been bent on committing wilful murder.

What is the present state of the soul of the person who perpetrated that crime?

Can he excuse himself on the ground that he was obeying orders, or does his conscience refuse to be chloroformed into silence by that hoary old subterfuge? When he first saw the great ship sailing up in the sunshine, its decks crowded with peaceful passengers, and he rose like a murderer out of his hiding-place in the bowels of the sea, what were the feelings with which he ordered the torpedo to be fired? When, having launched his bolt, he sank and then rose again, and heard the drowning cries of his victims struggling in the water, what were the emotions with which he ran away? And when he returned to tell his story of the work he had done, with what dignity of manhood did he hold up his head in the company of Christian men? God knows—only God and one of his creatures.


For the credit of human nature we feel compelled, in sight of such enormities, to go back to Mr. Maeterlinck's theory that invisible powers of evil are using man for the execution of devilish designs. But if so, they have had no mercy on their creatures. We read that when, in fear of another flood, not trusting the promises of the Almighty, the children of Noah began to build a Tower of Babel, the Lord sent a confusion of tongues among them to bring their design to destruction. The excuses the Germans have offered for their barbarities suggest a confusion of intellect that can only lead to a like result. Has the world ever before listened to such whirlwind logic?

When a German submarine has sunk a British merchantman and left her crew to perish we have been told that she was performing a legitimate act of war. But when a British merchantman has mounted a gun in order to defend herself, she has been said to violate the law of nations. When British battleships have blockaded German ports they have been trying to starve sixty-five millions of German people. But when German submarines have attempted to blockade British ports by drowning a thousand passengers of many nations on a British liner, they have been executing a just revenge. When a neutral nation in Europe has supplied foodstuffs and materials of war to Germany, she has been doing an act of simple humanity. But when the United States has supplied foodstuffs and materials of war to Great Britain she has been breaking the laws of her neutrality. When a brutal German officer has shot a British civilian in a railway train he has committed a justifiable homicide and becomes a proper person for promotion. But when a Belgian civilian has killed a German soldier who violated his daughter before his eyes he has been guilty of assassination and quite properly shot at sight. When Germany has refused to honour her name to a "scrap of paper" she has been a holy martyr obeying a law of necessity. But when England has honoured hers she has been a holy humbug, whose hypocrisy deserved to be exposed. Therefore God punish England! Above all, when God has crowned the arms of Germany with success on the battlefield, his most Christian Majesty, William the Pious, has always been with Him. Therefore God bless the Kaiser!

Surely confusion of intellect can go no further, and the German Tower of Babel must soon fall.


But out of this failure of logic on the part of "deep-thinking Germany" a danger came to us from nearer home than the battlefield. One of the most vivid flashes as of lightning whereby we have seen the drama of the past 365 days was that which, immediately after the sinking of the Lusitania, showed us the full depths of the "alien peril." Before the war we had had fifty thousand German-born persons living in our midst. They had enjoyed the whole freedom of our commerce, the whole justice of our law courts, and the whole protection of our police. Many of them had married our British women, who had borne them British children. Most of them had learned to speak our language, and some of us had learned to understand their own. A few had become British subjects, and many had been honoured by our King. Our music, literature, and art had become theirs. Shakespeare had, in effect, become a German poet, and Wagner a British composer. The barriers between our races had seemed to break down, and even such of us as had small hope of a golden age of universal brotherhood had begun to believe that marriage, mutual interest, education, and environment were making us one with these strangers within our gates.

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