ENGLAND AND THE WAR
delivered during the war and now first collected
MIGHT IS RIGHT First published as one of the Oxford Pamphlets, October 1914.
THE WAR OF IDEAS An Address to the Royal Colonial Institute, December 12, 1916.
THE FAITH OF ENGLAND An Address to the Union Society of University College, London, March 22, 1917.
SOME GAINS OF THE WAR An Address to the Royal Colonial Institute, February 13, 1918.
THE WAR AND THE PRESS A Paper read to the Essay Society, Eton College, March 14, 1918.
SHAKESPEARE AND ENGLAND The Annual Shakespeare Lecture of the British Academy, delivered July 4, 1918.
This book was not planned, but grew out of the troubles of the time. When, on one occasion or another, I was invited to lecture, I did not find, with Milton's Satan, that the mind is its own place; I could speak only of what I was thinking of, and my mind was fixed on the War. I am unacquainted with military science, so my treatment of the War was limited to an estimate of the characters of the antagonists.
The character of Germany and the Germans is a riddle. I have seen no convincing solution of it by any Englishman, and hardly any confident attempt at a solution which did not speak the uncontrolled language of passion. There is the same difficulty with the lower animals; our description of them tends to be a description of nothing but our own loves and hates. Who has ever fathomed the mind of a rhinoceros; or has remembered, while he faces the beast, that a good rhinoceros is a pleasant member of the community in which his life is passed? We see only the folded hide, the horn, and the angry little eye. We know that he is strong and cunning, and that his desires and instincts are inconsistent with our welfare. Yet a rhinoceros is a simpler creature than a German, and does not trouble our thought by conforming, on occasion, to civilized standards and humane conditions.
It seems unreasonable to lay great stress on racial differences. The insuperable barrier that divides England from Germany has grown out of circumstance and habit and thought. For many hundreds of years the German peoples have stood to arms in their own defence against the encroachments of successive empires; and modern Germany learned the doctrine of the omnipotence of force by prolonged suffering at the hands of the greatest master of that immoral school—the Emperor Napoleon. No German can understand the attitude of disinterested patronage which the English mind quite naturally assumes when it is brought into contact with foreigners. The best example of this superiority of attitude is to be seen in the people who are called pacifists. They are a peculiarly English type, and they are the most arrogant of all the English. The idea that they should ever have to fight for their lives is to them supremely absurd. There must be some mistake, they think, which can be easily remedied once it is pointed out. Their title to existence is so clear to themselves that they are convinced it will be universally recognized; it must not be made a matter of international conflict. Partly, no doubt, this belief is fostered by lack of imagination. The sheltered conditions and leisured life which they enjoy as the parasites of a dominant race have produced in them a false sense of security. But there is something also of the English strength and obstinacy of character in their self-confidence, and if ever Germany were to conquer England some of them would spring to their full stature as the heroes of an age-long and indomitable resistance. They are not held in much esteem to-day among their own people; they are useless for the work in hand; and their credit has suffered from the multitude of pretenders who make principle a cover for cowardice. But for all that, they are kin to the makers of England, and the fact that Germany would never tolerate them for an instant is not without its lesson.
We shall never understand the Germans. Some of their traits may possibly be explained by their history. Their passionate devotion to the State, their amazing vulgarity, their worship of mechanism and mechanical efficiency, are explicable in a people who are not strong in individual character, who have suffered much to achieve union, and who have achieved it by subordinating themselves, soul and body, to a brutal taskmaster. But the convulsions of war have thrown up things that are deeper than these, primaeval things, which, until recently, civilization was believed to have destroyed. The old monstrous gods who gave their names to the days of the week are alive again in Germany. The English soldier of to-day goes into action with the cold courage of a man who is prepared to make the best of a bad job. The German soldier sacrifices himself, in a frenzy of religious exaltation, to the War-God. The filthiness that the Germans use, their deliberate befouling of all that is elegant and gracious and antique, their spitting into the food that is to be eaten by their prisoners, their defiling with ordure the sacred vessels in the churches—all these things, too numerous and too monotonous to describe, are not the instinctive coarsenesses of the brute beast; they are a solemn ritual of filth, religiously practised, by officers no less than by men. The waves of emotional exaltation which from time to time pass over the whole people have the same character, the character of savage religion.
If they are alien to civilization when they fight, they are doubly alien when they reason. They are glib and fluent in the use of the terms which have been devised for the needs of thought and argument, but their use of these terms is empty, and exhibits all the intellectual processes with the intelligence left out. I know nothing more distressing than the attempt to follow any German argument concerning the War. If it were merely wrong-headed, cunning, deceitful, there might still be some compensation in its cleverness. There is no such compensation. The statements made are not false, but empty; the arguments used are not bad, but meaningless. It is as if they despised language, and made use of it only because they believe that it is an instrument of deceit. But a man who has no respect for language cannot possibly use it in such a manner as to deceive others, especially if those others are accustomed to handle it delicately and powerfully. It ought surely to be easy to apologize for a war that commands the whole-hearted support of a nation; but no apology worthy of the name has been produced in Germany. The pleadings which have been used are servile things, written to order, and directed to some particular address, as if the truth were of no importance. No one of these appeals has produced any appreciable effect on the minds of educated Frenchmen, or Englishmen, or Americans, even among those who are eager to hear all that the enemy has to say for himself. This is a strange thing; and is perhaps the widest breach of all. We are hopelessly separated from the Germans; we have lost the use of a common language, and cannot talk with them if we would.
We cannot understand them; is it remotely possible that they will ever understand us? Here, too, the difficulties seem insuperable. It is true that in the past they have shown themselves willing to study us and to imitate us. But unless they change their minds and their habits, it is not easy to see how they are to get near enough to us to carry on their study. While they remain what they are we do not want them in our neighbourhood. We are not fighting to anglicize Germany, or to impose ourselves on the Germans; our work is being done, as work is so often done in this idle sport-loving country, with a view to a holiday. We wish to forget the Germans; and when once we have policed them into quiet and decency we shall have earned the right to forget them, at least for a time. The time of our respite perhaps will not be long. If the Allies defeat them, as the Allies will, it seems as certain as any uncertain thing can be that a mania for imitating British and American civilization will take possession of Germany. We are not vindictive to a beaten enemy, and when the Germans offer themselves as pupils we are not likely to be either enthusiastic in our welcome or obstinate in our refusal. We shall be bored but concessive. I confess that there are some things in the prospect of this imitation which haunt me like a nightmare. The British soldier, whom the German knows to be second to none, is distinguished for the levity and jocularity of his bearing in the face of danger. What will happen when the German soldier attempts to imitate that? We shall be delivered from the German peril as when Israel came out of Egypt, and the mountains skipped like rams.
The only parts of this book for which I claim any measure of authority are the parts which describe the English character. No one of purely English descent has ever been known to describe the English character, or to attempt to describe it. The English newspapers are full of praises of almost any of the allied troops other than the English regiments. I have more Scottish and Irish blood in my veins than English; and I think I can see the English character truly, from a little distance. If, by some fantastic chance, the statesmen of Germany could learn what I tell them, it would save their country from a vast loss of life and from many hopeless misadventures. The English character is not a removable part of the British Empire; it is the foundation of the whole structure, and the secret strength of the American Republic. But the statesmen of Germany, who fall easy victims to anything foolish in the shape of a theory that flatters their vanity, would not believe a word of my essays even if they were to read them, so they must learn to know the English character in the usual way, as King George the Third learned to know it from Englishmen resident in America.
A habit of lying and a belief in the utility of lying are often attended by the most unhappy and paralysing effects. The liars become unable to recognize the truth when it is presented to them. This is the misery which fate has fixed on the German cause. War, the Germans are fond of remarking, is war. In almost all wars there is something to be said on both sides of the question. To know that one side or the other is right may be difficult; but it is always useful to know why your enemies are fighting. We know why Germany is fighting; she explained it very fully, by her most authoritative voices, on the very eve of the struggle, and she has repeated it many times since in moments of confidence or inadvertence. But here is the tragedy of Germany: she does not know why we are fighting. We have told her often enough, but she does not believe it, and treats our statement as an exercise in the cunning use of what she calls ethical propaganda. Why ethics, or morals, should be good enough to inspire sympathy, but not good enough to inspire war, is one of the mysteries of German thought. No German, not even any of those few feeble German writers who have fitfully criticized the German plan, has any conception of the deep, sincere, unselfish, and righteous anger that was aroused in millions of hearts by the cruelties of the cowardly assault on Serbia and on Belgium. The late German Chancellor became uneasily aware that the crucifixion of Belgium was one of the causes which made this war a truceless war, and his offer, which no doubt seemed to him perfectly reasonable, was that Germany is willing to bargain about Belgium, and to relax her hold, in exchange for solid advantages elsewhere. Perhaps he knew that if the Allies were to spend five minutes in bargaining about Belgium they would thereby condone the German crime and would lose all that they have fought for. But it seems more likely that he did not know it. The Allies know it.
There is hope in these clear-cut issues. Of all wars that ever were fought this war is least likely to have an indecisive ending. It must be settled one way or the other. If the Allied Governments were to make peace to-day, there would be no peace; the peoples of the free countries would not suffer it. Germany cannot make peace, for she is bound by heavy promises to her people, and she cannot deliver the goods. She is tied to the stake, and must fight the course. Emaciated, exhausted, repeating, as if in a bad dream, the old boastful appeals to military glory, she must go on till she drops, and then at last there will be peace.
These may themselves seem boastful words; they cannot be proved except by the event. There are some few Englishmen, with no stomach for a fight, who think that England is in a bad way because she is engaged in a war of which the end is not demonstrably certain. If the issues of wars were known beforehand, and could be discounted, there would be no wars. Good wars are fought by nations who make their choice, and would rather die than lose what they are fighting for. Military fortunes are notoriously variable, and depend on a hundred accidents. Moral causes are constant, and operate all the time. The chief of these moral causes is the character of a people. Germany, by her vaunted study of the art and science of war, has got herself into a position where no success can come to her except by way of the collapse or failure of the English-speaking peoples. A study of the moral causes, if she were capable of making it, would not encourage her in her old impious belief that God will destroy these peoples in order to clear the way for the dominion of the Hohenzollerns.
MIGHT IS RIGHT
First published as one of the Oxford Pamphlets, October 1914
It is now recognized in England that our enemy in this war is not a tyrant military caste, but the united people of modern Germany. We have to combat an armed doctrine which is virtually the creed of all Germany. Saxony and Bavaria, it is true, would never have invented the doctrine; but they have accepted it from Prussia, and they believe it. The Prussian doctrine has paid the German people handsomely; it has given them their place in the world. When it ceases to pay them, and not till then, they will reconsider it. They will not think, till they are compelled to think. When they find themselves face to face with a greater and more enduring strength than their own, they will renounce their idol. But they are a brave people, a faithful people, and a stupid people, so that they will need rough proofs. They cannot be driven from their position by a little paper shot. In their present mood, if they hear an appeal to pity, sensibility, and sympathy, they take it for a cry of weakness. I am reminded of what I once heard said by a genial and humane Irish officer concerning a proposal to treat with the leaders of a Zulu rebellion. 'Kill them all,' he said, 'it's the only thing they understand.' He meant that the Zulu chiefs would mistake moderation for a sign of fear. By the irony of human history this sentence has become almost true of the great German people, who built up the structure of modern metaphysics. They can be argued with only by those who have the will and the power to punish them.
The doctrine that Might is Right, though it is true, is an unprofitable doctrine, for it is true only in so broad and simple a sense that no one would dream of denying it. If a single nation can conquer, depress, and destroy all the other nations of the earth and acquire for itself a sole dominion, there may be matter for question whether God approves that dominion; what is certain is that He permits it. No earthly governor who is conscious of his power will waste time in listening to arguments concerning what his power ought to be. His right to wield the sword can be challenged only by the sword. An all-powerful governor who feared no assault would never trouble himself to assert that Might is Right. He would smile and sit still. The doctrine, when it is propounded by weak humanity, is never a statement of abstract truth; it is a declaration of intention, a threat, a boast, an advertisement. It has no value except when there is some one to be frightened. But it is a very dangerous doctrine when it becomes the creed of a stupid people, for it flatters their self-sufficiency, and distracts their attention from the difficult, subtle, frail, and wavering conditions of human power. The tragic question for Germany to-day is what she can do, not whether it is right for her to do it. The buffaloes, it must be allowed, had a perfect right to dominate the prairie of America, till the hunters came. They moved in herds, they practised shock-tactics, they were violent, and very cunning. There are but few of them now. A nation of men who mistake violence for strength, and cunning for wisdom, may conceivably suffer the fate of the buffaloes and perish without knowing why.
To the English mind the German political doctrine is so incredibly stupid that for many long years, while men in high authority in the German Empire, ministers, generals, and professors, expounded that doctrine at great length and with perfect clearness, hardly any one could be found in England to take it seriously, or to regard it as anything but the vapourings of a crazy sect. England knows better now; the scream of the guns has awakened her. The German doctrine is to be put to the proof. Who dares to say what the result will be? To predict certain failure to the German arms is only a kind of boasting. Yet there are guarded beliefs which a modest man is free to hold till they are seen to be groundless. The Germans have taken Antwerp; they may possibly destroy the British fleet, overrun England and France, repel Russia, establish themselves as the dictators of Europe—in short, fulfil their dreams. What then? At an immense cost of human suffering they will have achieved, as it seems to us, a colossal and agonizing failure. Their engines of destruction will never serve them to create anything so fair as the civilization of France. Their uneasy jealousy and self-assertion is a miserable substitute for the old laws of chivalry and regard for the weak, which they have renounced and forgotten. The will and high permission of all-ruling Heaven may leave them at large for a time, to seek evil to others. When they have finished with it, the world will have to be remade.
We cannot be sure that the Ruler of the world will forbid this. We cannot even be sure that the destroyers, in the peace that their destruction will procure for them, may not themselves learn to rebuild. The Goths, who destroyed the fabric of the Roman Empire, gave their name, in time, to the greatest mediaeval art. Nature, it is well known, loves the strong, and gives to them, and to them alone, the chance of becoming civilized. Are the German people strong enough to earn that chance? That is what we are to see. They have some admirable elements of strength, above any other European people. No other European army can be marched, in close order, regiment after regiment, up the slope of a glacis, under the fire of machine guns, without flinching, to certain death. This corporate courage and corporate discipline is so great and impressive a thing that it may well contain a promise for the future. Moreover, they are, within the circle of their own kin, affectionate and dutiful beyond the average of human society. If they succeed in their worldly ambitions, it will be a triumph of plain brute morality over all the subtler movements of the mind and heart.
On the other hand, it is true to say that history shows no precedent for the attainment of world-wide power by a people so politically stupid as the German people are to-day. There is no mistake about this; the instances of German stupidity are so numerous that they make something like a complete history of German international relations. Here is one. Any time during the last twenty years it has been matter of common knowledge in England that one event, and one only, would make it impossible for England to remain a spectator in a European war—that event being the violation of the neutrality of Holland or Belgium. There was never any secret about this, it was quite well known to many people who took no special interest in foreign politics. Germany has maintained in this country, for many years, an army of spies and secret agents; yet not one of them informed her of this important truth. Perhaps the radical difference between the German and the English political systems blinded the astute agents. In England nothing really important is a secret, and the amount of privileged political information to be gleaned in barbers' shops, even when they are patronized by Civil servants, is distressingly small. Two hours of sympathetic conversation with an ordinary Englishman would have told the German Chancellor more about English politics than ever he heard in his life. For some reason or other he was unable to make use of this source of intelligence, so that he remained in complete ignorance of what every one in England knew and said.
Here is another instance. The programme of German ambition has been voluminously published for the benefit of the world. France was first to be crushed; then Russia; then, by means of the indemnities procured from these conquests, after some years of recuperation and effort, the naval power of England was to be challenged and destroyed. This programme was set forth by high authorities, and was generally accepted; there was no criticism, and no demur. The crime against the civilization of the world foreshadowed in the horrible words 'France is to be crushed' is before a high tribunal; it would be idle to condemn it here. What happened is this. The French and Russian part of the programme was put into action last July. England, who had been told that her turn was not yet, that Germany would be ready for her in a matter of five or ten years, very naturally refused to wait her turn. She crowded up on to the scaffold, which even now is in peril of breaking down under the weight of its victims, and of burying the executioner in its ruins. But because England would not wait her turn, she is overwhelmed with accusations of treachery and inhumanity by a sincerely indignant Germany. Could stupidity, the stupidity of the wise men of Gotham, be more fantastic or more monstrous?
German stupidity was even more monstrous. A part of the accusation against England is that she has raised her hand against the nation nearest to her in blood. The alleged close kinship of England and Germany is based on bad history and doubtful theory. The English are a mixed race, with enormous infusions of Celtic and Roman blood. The Roman sculpture gallery at Naples is full of English faces. If the German agents would turn their attention to hatters' shops, and give the barbers a rest, they would find that no English hat fits any German head. But suppose we were cousins, or brothers even, what kind of argument is that on the lips of those who but a short time before were explaining, with a good deal of zest and with absolute frankness, how they intended to compass our ruin? There is something almost amiable in fatuity like this. A touch of the fool softens the brute.
The Germans have a magnificent war-machine which rolls on its way, crushing all that it touches. We shall break it if we can. If we fail, the German nation is at the beginning, not the end, of its troubles. With the making of peace, even an armed peace, the war-machine has served its turn; some other instrument of government must then be invented. There is no trace of a design for this new instrument in any of the German shops. The governors of Alsace-Lorraine offer no suggestions. The bald fact is that there is no spot in the world where the Germans govern another race and are not hated. They know this, and are disquieted; they meet with coldness on all hands, and their remedy for the coldness is self-assertion and brag. The Russian statesman was right who remarked that modern Germany has been too early admitted into the comity of European nations. Her behaviour, in her new international relations, is like the behaviour of an uneasy, jealous upstart in an old-fashioned quiet drawing-room. She has no genius for equality; her manners are a compound of threatening and flattery. When she wishes to assert herself, she bullies; when she wishes to endear herself, she crawls; and the one device is no more successful than the other.
Might is Right; but the sort of might which enables one nation to govern another in time of peace is very unlike the armoured thrust of the war-engine. It is a power compounded of sympathy and justice. The English (it is admitted by many foreign critics) have studied justice and desired justice. They have inquired into and protected rights that were unfamiliar, and even grotesque, to their own ideas, because they believed them to be rights. In the matter of sympathy their reputation does not stand so high; they are chill in manner, and dislike all effusive demonstrations of feeling. Yet those who come to know them know that they are not unimaginative; they have a genius for equality; and they do try to put themselves in the other fellow's place, to see how the position looks from that side. What has happened in India may perhaps be taken to prove, among many other things, that the inhabitants of India begin to know that England has done her best, and does feel a disinterested solicitude for the peoples under her charge. She has long been a mother of nations, and is not frightened by the problems of adolescence.
The Germans have as yet shown no sign of skill in governing other peoples. Might is Right; and it is quite conceivable that they may acquire colonies by violence. If they want to keep them they will have to shut their own professors' books, and study the intimate history of the British Empire. We are old hands at the business; we have lost more colonies than ever they owned, and we begin to think that we have learnt the secret of success. At any rate, our experience has done much for us, and has helped us to avoid failure. Yet the German colonial party stare at us with bovine malevolence. In all the library of German theorizing you will look in vain for any explanation of the fact that the Boers are, in the main, loyal to the British Empire. If German political thinkers could understand that political situation, which seems to English minds so simple, there might yet be hope for them. But they regard it all as a piece of black magic, and refuse to reason about it. How should a herd of cattle be driven without goads? Witchcraft, witchcraft!
Their world-wide experience it is, perhaps, which has made the English quick to appreciate the virtues of other peoples. I have never known an Englishman who travelled in Russia without falling in love with the Russian people. I have never heard a German speak of the Russian people without contempt and dislike. Indeed the Germans are so unable to see any charm in that profound and humane people that they believe that the English liking for them must be an insincere pretence, put forward for wicked or selfish reasons. What would they say if they saw a sight that is common in Indian towns, a British soldier and a Gurkha arm in arm, rolling down the street in cheerful brotherhood? And how is it that it has never occurred to any of them that this sort of brotherhood has its value in Empire-building? The new German political doctrine has bidden farewell to Christianity, but there are some political advantages in Christianity which should not be overlooked. It teaches human beings to think of one another and to care for one another. It is an antidote to the worst and most poisonous kind of political stupidity.
Another thing that the Germans will have to learn for the welfare of their much-talked Empire is the value of the lone man. The architects and builders of the British Empire were all lone men. Might is Right; but when a young Englishman is set down at an outpost of Empire to govern a warlike tribe, he has to do a good deal of hard thinking on the problem of political power and its foundations. He has to trust to himself, to form his own conclusions, and to choose his own line of action. He has to try to find out what is in the mind of others. A young German, inured to skilled slavery, does not shine in such a position. Man for man, in all that asks for initiative and self-dependence, Englishmen are the better men, and some Germans know it. There is an old jest that if you settle an Englishman and a German together in a new country, at the end of a year you will find the Englishman governor, and the German his head clerk. A German must know the rules before he can get to work.
More than three hundred years ago a book was written in England which is in some ways a very exact counterpart to General von Bernhardi's notorious treatise. It is called Tamburlaine, and, unlike its successor, is full of poetry and beauty. Our own colonization began with a great deal of violent work, and much wrong done to others. We suffered for our misdeeds, and we learned our lesson, in part at least. Why, it may be asked, should not the Germans begin in the same manner, and by degrees adapt themselves to the new task? Perhaps they may, but if they do, they cannot claim the Elizabethans for their model. Of all men on earth the German is least like the undisciplined, exuberant Elizabethan adventurer. He is reluctant to go anywhere without a copy of the rules, a guarantee of support, and a regular pension. His outlook is as prosaic as General von Bernhardi's or General von der Golt's own, and that is saying a great deal. In all the German political treatises there is an immeasurable dreariness. They lay down rules for life, and if they be asked what makes such a life worth living they are without any hint of an answer. Their world is a workhouse, tyrannically ordered, and full of pusillanimous jealousies.
It is not impious to be hopeful. A Germanized world would be a nightmare. We have never attempted or desired to govern them, and we must not think that God will so far forget them as to permit them to attempt to govern us. Now they hate us, but they do not know for how many years the cheerful brutality of their political talk has shocked and disgusted us. I remember meeting, in one of the French Mediterranean dependencies, with a Prussian nobleman, a well-bred and pleasant man, who was fond of expounding the Prussian creed. He was said to be a political agent of sorts, but he certainly learned nothing in conversation. He talked all the time, and propounded the most monstrous paradoxes with an air of mathematical precision. Now it was the character of Sir Edward Grey, a cunning Machiavel, whose only aim was to set Europe by the ears and make neighbours fall out. A friend who was with me, an American, laughed aloud at this, and protested, without producing the smallest effect. The stream of talk went on. The error of the Germans, we were told, was always that they are too humane; their dislike of cruelty amounts to a weakness in them. They let France escape with a paltry fine, next time France must be beaten to the dust. Always with a pleasant outward courtesy, he passed on to England. England was decadent and powerless, her rule must pass to the Germans. 'But we shall treat England rather less severely than France,' said this bland apostle of Prussian culture, 'for we wish to make it possible for ourselves to remain in friendly relations with other English-speaking peoples.' And so on—the whole of the Bernhardi doctrine, explained in quiet fashion by a man whose very debility of mind made his talk the more impressive, for he was simply parroting what he had often heard. No one criticized his proposals, nor did we dislike him. It all seemed too mad; a rather clumsy jest. His world of ideas did not touch our world at any point, so that real talk between us was impossible. He came to see us several times, and always gave the same kind of mesmerized recital of Germany's policy. The grossness of the whole thing was in curious contrast with the polite and quiet voice with which he uttered his insolences. When I remember his talk I find it easy to believe that the German Emperor and the German Chancellor have also talked in such a manner that they have never had the smallest opportunity of learning what Englishmen think and mean.
While the German doctrine was the plaything merely of hysterical and supersensitive persons, like Carlyle and Nietzsche, it mattered little to the world of politics. An excitable man, of vivid imagination and invalid constitution, like Carlyle, feels a natural predilection for the cult of the healthy brute. Carlyle's English style is itself a kind of epilepsy. Nietzsche was so nervously sensitive that everyday life was an anguish to him, and broke his strength. Both were poets, as Marlowe was a poet, and both sang the song of Power. The brutes of the swamp and the field, who gathered round them and listened, found nothing new or unfamiliar in the message of the poets. 'This', they said, 'is what we have always known, but we did not know that it is poetry. Now that great poets teach it, we need no longer be ashamed of it.' So they went away resolved to be twice the brutes that they were before, and they named themselves Culture-brutes.
It is difficult to see how the world, or any considerable part of it, can belong to Germany, till she changes her mind. If she can do that, she might make a good ruler, for she has solid virtues and good instincts. It is her intellect that has gone wrong. Bishop Butler was one day found pondering the problem whether, a whole nation can go mad. If he had lived to-day what would he have said about it? Would he have admitted that that strangest of grim fancies is realized?
It would be vain for Germany to take the world; she could not keep it; nor, though she can make a vast number of people miserable for a long time, could she ever hope to make all the inhabitants of the world miserable for all time. She has a giant's power, and does not think it infamous to use it like a giant. She can make a winter hideous, but she cannot prohibit the return of spring, or annul the cleansing power of water. Sanity is not only better than insanity; it is much stronger, and Might is Right.
Meantime, it is a delight and a consolation to Englishmen that England is herself again. She has a cause that it is good to fight for, whether it succeed or fail. The hope that uplifts her is the hope of a better world, which our children shall see. She has wonderful friends. From what self-governing nations in the world can Germany hear such messages as came to England from the Dominions oversea? 'When England is at war, Canada is at war.' 'To the last man and the last shilling, Australia will support the cause of the Empire.' These are simple words, and sufficient; having said them, Canada and Australia said no more. In the company of such friends, and for the creed that she holds, England might be proud to die; but surely her time is not yet.
Our faith is ours, and comes not on a tide; And whether Earth's great offspring by decree Must rot if they abjure rapacity, Not argument, but effort shall decide. They number many heads in that hard flock, Trim swordsmen they push forth, yet try thy steel; Thou, fighting for poor human kind, shalt feel The strength of Roland in thy wrist to hew A chasm sheer into the barrier rock, And bring the army of the faithful through.
THE WAR OF IDEAS
An Address to the Royal Colonial Institute, December 12, 1916
I hold, as I daresay you do, that we are at a crisis of our history where there is not much room for talk. The time when this struggle might have been averted or won by talk is long past. During the hundred years before the war we have not talked much, or listened much, to the Germans. For fifty of those years at least the head of waters that has now been let loose in a devastating flood over Europe was steadily accumulating; but we paid little attention to it. People sometimes speak of the negotiations of the twelve days before the war as if the whole secret and cause of the war could be found there; but it is not so. Statesmen, it is true, are the keepers of the lock-gates, but those keepers can only delay, they cannot prevent an inundation that has great natural causes. The world has in it evil enough, and darkness enough. But it is not so bad and so dark that a slip in diplomacy, a careless word, or an impolite gesture, can instantaneously, as if by magic, involve twenty million men in a struggle to the death. It is only clever, conceited men, proud of their neat little minds, who think that because they cannot fathom the causes of the war, it might easily have been prevented. I confess I find it difficult to conceive of the war in terms of simple right and wrong. We must respect the tides, and their huge unintelligible force teaches us to respect them.
It is not a war of race. For all our differences with the Germans, any cool and impartial mind must admit that we have many points of kinship with them. During the years before the war our naval officers in the Mediterranean found, I believe, that it was easier to associate on terms of social friendship with the Austrians than with the officers of any other foreign navy. We have a passionate admiration for France, and a real devotion to her, but that is a love affair, not a family tie. We begin to be experienced in love affairs, for Ireland steadily refuses to be treated on any other footing. In any case, we are much closer to the Germans than they are to the Bulgarians or the Turks. Of these three we like the Turks the best, because they are chivalrous and generous enemies, which the Germans are not.
It is a war of ideas. We are fighting an armed doctrine. Yet Burke's use of those words to describe the military power of Revolutionary France should warn us against fallacious attempts to simplify the issue. When ideas become motives and are filtered into practice, they lose their clearness of outline and are often hard to recognize. They leaven the lump, but the lump is still human clay, with its passions and prejudices, its pride and its hate. I remember seeing in a provincial paper, in the early days of the war, two adjacent columns, both dealing with the war. The first was headed 'A Holy War' and set forth the great principles of nationality, respect for treaties, and protection of the weak, which in our opinion are the main motives of the Allies in this war. The second was headed 'The War on Commerce; Tips to capture German trade', and set forth those other principles and motives which, in the opinion of the Germans, brought England into this war.
I am not going to defend England against the charge that she entered this war on a cold calculation of mercantile profit. Every one here knows that the charge is utterly untrue. Those who believe the charge could not be shaken in their belief except by being educated all over again, and introduced to some knowledge of human nature. It is enough to remark that this charge is a commonplace between belligerent nations. They all like to believe that their adversaries entertain only base motives, while they themselves act only on the loftiest ideal promptings. If the charge means only that every nation at war is bound to think of its own interests, to conserve its own strength, and to seize on all material gains that are within its reach, the charge is true and harmless. When two angry women quarrel in a back street, they commonly accuse each other of being amorous. They might just as well accuse each other of being human. The charge is true and insignificant. So also with nations; they all cherish themselves and seek to preserve their means of livelihood.
If this were their sole concern, there would be few wars; certainly this war, which is desolating and impoverishing Europe, would be impossible. No one, surely, can look at the war and say that nations are moved only by their material interests. It would be more plausible to say that they are too little moved by those interests. Bacon, in his essay Of Death, remarks that the fear of death does not much affect mankind. 'There is no passion in the mind of man so weak, but it mates and masters the fear of death; and therefore death is no such terrible enemy when a man hath so many attendants about him that can win the combat of him. Revenge triumphs over death; love slights it; honour aspireth to it; grief flieth to it, fear pre-occupateth it; nay, we read, after Otho the Emperor had slain himself, pity (which is the tenderest of affections) provoked many to die out of mere compassion to their sovereign, and as the truest sort of followers.' If this is true of the fear of death, how much truer it is of the love of material gain. Any whim, or point of pride, or fixed idea, or old habit, is enough to make a man or a nation forgo the hope of profit and fight for a creed.
The German creed is by this time well known. Before the war we took little notice of it. We sometimes saw it stated in print, but it seemed to us too monstrous and inhuman to be the creed of a whole people. We were wrong; it was the creed of a whole people. By the mesmerism of State education, by the discipline of universal military service, by the pride of the German people in their past victories, and by the fears natural to a nation that finds enemies on all its fronts, an absolute belief in the State, in war as the highest activity of the State, and in the right of the State to enslave all its subjects, body and soul, to its purposes, had become the creed of all those diverse peoples that are united under the Prussian Monarchy. Most of them are not naturally warlike peoples. They have been lured, and frightened, and drilled, and bribed into war, but it is true to say that, on the whole, they enjoy fighting less than we do. One of the truest remarks ever made on the war was that famous remark of a British private soldier, who was telling how his company took a trench from the enemy. Fearing that his account of the affair might sound boastful, he added, 'You see, Sir, they're not a military people, like we are.' Only the word was wrong, the meaning was right. They are, as every one knows, an enormously military people, and, if they want to fight at all, they have to be a military people, for the vast majority of them are not a warlike people. A first-class army could never have been fashioned in Germany out of volunteer civilians, like our army on the Somme. That army has a little shaken the faith of the Germans in their creed. Again I must quote one of our soldiers: 'I don't say', he remarked, 'that our average can run rings round their best; what I say is that our average is better than their average, and our best is better than their best.' The Germans already are uneasy about their creed and their system, but there is no escape for them; they have sacrificed everything to it; they have impoverished the mind and drilled the imagination of every German citizen, so that Germany appears before the world with the body of a giant and the mind of a dwarf; they have sacrificed themselves in millions that their creed may prevail, and with their creed they must stand or fall. The State, organized as absolute power, responsible to no one, with no duties to its neighbour, and with only nominal duties to a strictly subordinate God, has challenged the soul of man in its dearest possessions. We cannot predict the course of military operations; but if we were not sure of the ultimate issue of this great struggle, we should have no sufficient motive for continuing to breathe. The State has challenged the soul of man before now, and has always been defeated. A miserable remnant of men and women, tied to stakes or starved in dungeons, have before now shattered what seemed an omnipotent tyranny, because they stood for the soul and were not prompted by vanity or self-regard. They had great allies—
'Their friends were exultations, agonies, And love, and man's unconquerable mind.'
If we are defeated we shall be defeated not by German strength but by our own weakness. The worst enemy of the martyr is doubt and the divided mind, which suggests the question, 'Is it, after all, worth while?' We must know what we have believed. What do we stand for in this war? It is only the immovable conviction that we stand for something ultimate and essential that can help us and carry us through. No war of this kind and on this scale is good enough to fight unless it is good enough to fail in. 'The calculation of profit', said Burke,'in all such wars is false. On balancing the account of such wars, ten thousand hogs-heads of sugar are purchased at ten thousand times their price. The blood of man should never be shed but to redeem the blood of man. It is well shed for our family, for our friends, for our God, for our country, for our kind. The rest is vanity; the rest is crime.'
The question I have asked is a difficult question to answer, or, rather, the answer is not easy to formulate briefly and clearly. Most of the men at the front know quite well what they are fighting for; they know that it is for their country, but that it is also for their kind—for certain ideals of humanity. We at home know that we are at war for liberty and humanity. But these words are invoked by different nations in different senses; the Germans, or at least most of them, have as much liberty as they desire, and believe that the highest good of humanity is to be found in the prevalence of their own ideas and of their own type of government and society. No abstract demonstration can help us. Liberty is a highly comparative notion; no one asks for it complete. Humanity is a highly variable notion; it is interpreted in different senses by different societies. What we are confronted by is two types of character, two sets of aims, two ideals for society. There can be no harm in trying to understand both.
The Germans can never be understood by those who neglect their history. They are a solid, brave, and earnest people, who, till quite recent times, have been denied their share in the government of Europe. In the sixteenth century they were deeply stirred by questions of religion, and were rent asunder by the Reformation. Compromise proved futile; the small German states were ranked on this side or on that at the will of their rulers and princes; men of the same race were ranged in mortal opposition on the question of religious belief, and there was no solution but war. For thirty years in the seventeenth century the war raged. It was conducted with a fierceness and inhumanity that even the present war has not equalled. The civilian population suffered hideously. Whole provinces were desolated and whole states were bereaved of their men. When, from mere exhaustion, the war came to an end, Germany lay prostrate, and the chief gains of the war fell to the rising monarchy of France, which had intervened in the middle of the struggle. By the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 Alsace and Lorraine went to France, and the rule of the great monarch, Louis XIV, had nothing to fear from the German peoples. The ambitions of Germany, for long after this, were mainly cosmopolitan and intellectual. But political ambitions, though they seemed almost dead, were revived by the hardy state of Prussia, and the rest of Germany's history, down to our own time, is the history of the welding of the Germanic peoples into a single state by Prussian monarchs and statesmen.
This history explains many things. If a people has a corporate memory, if it can learn from its own sufferings, Germany has reason enough to cherish with a passionate devotion her late achieved unity. And German brutality, which is not the less brutality because Germans regard it as quite natural and right, has its origin in German history. The Prussian is a Spartan, a natural brute, but brutal to himself as well as to others, capable of extremes of self-denial and self-discipline. From the Prussians the softer and more emotional German peoples of the South received the gift of national unity, and they repaid the debt by extravagant admiration for Prussian prowess and hardihood, which had been so serviceable to their cause. The Southern Germans, the Bavarians especially, have developed a sort of sentimentalism of brutality, expressed in the hysterical Hymn of Hate (which hails from Munich), expressed also in those monstrous excesses and cruelties, surpassing anything that mere insensibility can produce, which have given the Bavarian troops their foul reputation in the present war.
The last half century of German history must also be remembered. Three assaults on neighbouring states were rewarded by a great increase of territory and of strength. From Denmark, in 1864, Prussia took Schleswig-Holstein. The defeat of Austria in 1866 brought Hanover and Bavaria under the Prussian leadership; Alsace and Lorraine were regained from France in 1870. The Prussian mind, which is not remarkable for subtlety, found a justification in these three wars for its favourite doctrine of frightfulness. That doctrine, put briefly, is that people can always be frightened into submission, and that it is cheaper to frighten them than to fight them to the bitter end. Denmark was a small nation, and moreover was left utterly unsupported by the European powers who had guaranteed her integrity. Bavaria was frightened, and will be frightened again when her hot fit gives way to her cold fit. France was divided and half-hearted under a tinsel emperor. It is Germany's misfortune that on these three special cases she based a general doctrine of war. A very little knowledge of human nature—a knowledge so alien to her that she calls it psychology and assigns it to specialists—would have taught her that, for the most part, human beings when they are fighting for their homes and their faith cannot be frightened, and must be killed or conciliated. The practice of frightfulness has not worked very well in this war. It has steeled the heart of Germany's enemies. It has produced in her victims a temper of hate that will outlive this generation, and will make the small peoples whom she has kicked and trampled on impossible subjects of the German Empire. Worst of all it has suggested to onlookers that the people who have so plenary a belief in frightfulness are not themselves strangers to fear. There is an old English proverb, hackneyed and stale three hundred years ago, but now freshened again by disuse, that the goodwife would never have looked for her daughter in the oven unless she had been there herself.
How shall I describe the English temper, which the Germans, high and low, learned and ignorant, have so profoundly mistaken? You can get no description of it from the Englishman pure and simple; he has no theory of himself, and it bores him to hear himself described. Yet it is this temper which has given England her great place in the world and which has cemented the British Empire. It is to be found not in England alone, but wherever there is a strain of English blood or an acceptance of English institutions. You can find it in Australia, in Canada, in America; it infects Scotland, and impresses Wales. It is everywhere in our trenches to-day. It is not clannish, or even national, it is essentially the lonely temper of a man independent to the verge of melancholy. An admirable French writer of to-day has said that the best handbook and guide to the English temper is Defoe's romance of Robinson Crusoe. Crusoe is practical, but is conscious of the over-shadowing presence of the things that are greater than man. He makes his own clothing, teaches his goats to dance, and wrestles in thought with the problems suggested by his Bible. Another example of the same temper may be seen in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and yet another in Wordsworth's Prelude. There is no danger that English thought will ever underestimate the value and meaning of the individual soul. The greatest English literature, it might almost be said, from Shakespeare's Hamlet to Browning's The Ring and the Book, is concerned with no other subject. The age-long satire against the English is that in England every man claims the right to go to heaven his own way. English institutions, instead of subduing men to a single pattern, are devised chiefly with the object of saving the rights of the subject and the liberty of the individual. 'Every man in his humour' is an English proverb, and might almost be a statement of English constitutional doctrine. But this extreme individualism is the right of all, and does not favour self-exaltation. The English temper has an almost morbid dislike of all that is showy or dramatic in expression. I remember how a Winchester boy, when he was reproached with the fact that Winchester has produced hardly any great men, replied, 'No, indeed, I should think not. We would pretty soon have knocked that out of them.' And the epigrams of the English temper usually take the form of understatement. 'Give Dayrolles a chair' were the last dying words of Lord Chesterfield, spoken of the friend who had come to see him. When the French troops go over the parapet to make an advance, their battle cry shouts the praises of their Country. The British troops prefer to celebrate the advance in a more trivial fashion, 'This way to the early door, sixpence extra.'
I might go on interminably with this dissertation, but I have said enough for my purpose. The history of England has had much to do with moulding the English temper. We have been protected from direct exposure to the storms that have swept the Continent. Our wars on land have been adventures undertaken by expeditionary forces. At sea, while the power of England was growing, we have been explorers, pirates, buccaneers. Now that we are involved in a great European war on land, our methods have been changed. The artillery and infantry of a modern army cannot act effectively on their own impulse. We hold the sea, and the pirates' work for the present has passed into other hands. But our spirit and temper is the same as of old. It has found a new world in the air. War in the air, under the conditions of to-day, demands all the old gallantry and initiative. The airman depends on his own brain and nerve; he cannot fall back on orders from his superiors. Our airmen of to-day are the true inheritors of Drake; they have the same inspired recklessness, the same coolness, and the same chivalry to a vanquished enemy.
I am a very bad example of the English temper; for the English temper grumbles at all this, to the great relief of our enemies, who believe that what a man admits against his own nation must be true. Our pessimists, by indulging their natural vein, serve us, without reward, quite as well as Germany is served by her wireless press. They deceive the enemy.
Modern Germany has organized and regimented her people like an ant-hill or a beehive. The people themselves, including many who belong to the upper class, are often simple villagers in temper, full of kindness and anger, much subject to envy and jealousy, not magnanimous, docile and obedient to a fault. If they claimed, as individuals, to represent the highest reach of European civilization, the claim would be merely absurd. So they shift their ground, and pretend that society is greater than man, and that by their painstaking organization their society has been raised to the pinnacle of human greatness. They make this claim so insistently, and in such obvious good faith, that some few weak tempers and foolish minds in England have been impressed by it. These panic-stricken counsellors advise us, without delay, to reform our institutions and organize them upon the German model. Only thus, they tell us, can we hold our own against so huge a power. But if we were to take their advice, we should have nothing of our own left to hold. It is reasonable and good to co-operate and organize in order to attain an agreed object, but German organization goes far beyond this. The German nation is a carefully built, smooth-running machine, with powerful engines. It has only one fault—that any fool can drive it; and seeing that the governing class in Germany is obstinate and unimaginative, there is no lack of drivers to pilot it to disaster. The best ability of Germany is seen in her military organization. Napoleon is her worshipped model, and, like many admirers of Napoleon, she thinks only of his great campaigns; she forgets that he died in St. Helena, and that his schemes for the reorganization of Europe failed.
I know that many people in England are not daunted but depressed by the military successes of the enemy. Our soldiers in the field are not depressed. But we who are kept at home suffer from the miasma of the back-parlour. We read the headlines of newspapers—a form of literature that is exciting enough, but does not merit the praise given to Sophocles, who saw life steadily and saw it whole. We keep our ears to the telephone, and we forget that the great causes which are always at work, and which will shape the issues of this war, are not recorded upon the telephone. There are things truer and more important than the latest dispatches. Here is one of them. The organization of the second-rate can never produce anything first-rate. We do not understand a people who, when it comes to the last push of man against man, throw up their hands and utter the pathetic cry of 'Kamerad'. To surrender is a weakness that no one who has not been under modern artillery fire has any right to condemn; to profess a sudden affection for the advancing enemy is not weakness but baseness. Or rather, it would be baseness in a voluntary soldier; in the Germans it means only that the war is not their own war; that they are fighting as slaves, not as free men. The idea that we could ever live under the rule of these people is merely comic. To do them justice, they do not now entertain the idea, though they have dallied with it in the past.
No harm can be done, I think, by preaching to the English people the necessity for organization and discipline. We shall still be ourselves, and there is no danger that we shall overdo discipline or make organization a thing to be worshipped for its own sake. The danger is all the other way. We have learnt much from the war, and the work that we shall have to do when it ends is almost more important than the terms of peace, or concessions made this way and that. If the treacherous assault of the Germans on the liberties and peace of Europe is rewarded by any solid gain to the German Empire, then history may forgive them, but this people of the British Empire will not forgive them. Nothing will be as it was before; and our cause, which will not be lost in the war, will still have to be won in the so-called peace. I know that some say, 'Let us have war when we are at war, and peace when we are at peace'. It sounds plausible and magnanimous, but it is Utopian. You must reckon with your own people. They know that when we last had peace, the sunshine of that peace was used by the Germans to hatch the spawn of malice and treason. If the Germans are defeated in the war, we shall, I suppose, forgive them, for the very English reason that it is a bore not to forgive your enemies. But if they escape without decisive defeat in battle, their harder trial is yet to come.
In some ways we are stronger than we have been in all our long history. We have found ourselves, and we have found our friends. Our dead have taught the children of to-day more and better than any living teachers can teach them. No one in this country will ever forget how the people of the Dominions, at the first note of war, sprang to arms like one man. We must not thank or praise them; like the Navy, they regard our thanks and praise as something of an impertinence. They are not fighting, they say, for us. But that is how we discovered them. They are doing much better than fighting for us, they are fighting with us, because, without a word of explanation or appeal, their ideas and ours are the same. We never have discussed with them, and we never shall discuss, what is decent and clean and honourable in human behaviour. A philosopher who is interested in this question can find plenty of intellectual exercise by discussing it with the Germans, Where an Englishman, a Canadian, and an Australian are met, there is no material for such a debate.
It would be extravagant to suppose that a discovery like this can leave our future relations untouched. We now know that we are profoundly united in a union much stronger and deeper than any mechanism can produce. I know how difficult a problem it is to hit on the best device for giving political expression to this union between States separated from one another by the whole world's diameter, differing in their circumstances, their needs, and their outlook. I do not dare to prescribe; but I should like to make a few remarks, and to call attention to a few points which are perhaps more present to the mind of the ordinary citizen than they are in the discussions of constitutional experts.
We must arrange for co-operation and mutual support. If the arrangement is complicated and lengthy, we must not wait for it; we must meet and discuss our common affairs. Ministers from the Dominions have already sat with the British Cabinet. We can never go back on that; it is a landmark in our history. Our Ministers must travel; if their supporters are impatient of their absence on the affairs of the Empire, they must find some less parochial set of supporters. We have begun in the right way; the right way is not to pass laws determining what you are to do; but to do what is needful, and do it at once,—do a lot of things, and regularize your successes by later legislation. Now is the time, while the Empire is white-hot. Our first need is not lawyers, but men who, feeling friendly, know how to behave as friends do. They will not be impeached if they go beyond the letter of the law. One act of faith is worth a hundred arguments. This is a family affair; the habits of an affectionate and united family are the only good model.
As for the Crown Colonies and India, the Dominions must share our burden. It is objected, both here and in India, that life in the Dominions is a very inadequate education for the sympathetic handling of alien races and customs. So is life in many parts of this island. The fact is that the process of learning to govern these alien peoples is the best education in the world. The Indian Civil Service is a great College, and it governs India. I can speak to this point, for I have lived there and seen it at work. If India were really governed by the ideas of the young novices who go out there fresh from their examinations, she would be a distressful country. But the novice is taken in hand at once by the older members of the service; he works under the eye of the Collector and the Assistant Collector; they shoulder him and instruct him as tame elephants shoulder and instruct the wild; they are kind to him, and he lives in their company while his prejudices and follies peel off him; so that within a few years he becomes a tolerant, wise, and devoted civil servant, who speaks the language of the College and is proud to belong to it. The success of the Government of India is not to be credited to the classes from which the Civil Service is recruited, but to the discipline of the Service itself, a Service so high in tradition and so free from corruption that advancement in it is to be gained only by intelligence and sympathy. What I am saying is that I can imagine no finer raw material for the political discipline of the Indian Civil Service than some of the generous and clean-run spirits who have come from the Dominions to help in this war. They could be introduced to a share of our responsibilities without impeding or retarding the movement to give to selected natives of India a larger share in the government of their country.
But the war is not over, so I return to the main issue—the conflict between the English idea and the German idea of world government. It is not an accident, as Baron von Huegel remarks in his book on The German Soul, that the chief colonizing nation of the world should be a nation without a national army. We have depended enormously in the past on the initiative and virtue of the individual adventurer; if our adventurers were to fail us, which is not likely, or if the State were to supersede them, and attempt to do their work, which is not conceivable, our political power and influence would vanish with them. The world might perhaps be well ordered, but there would be no freedom, and no fun. The beauty of the adventurer is that he is practically invincible. He does not wait for orders. Under the most perfect police system that Germany could devise, he would be up and at it again. We are not so numerous as the Germans, but there are enough and to spare of us to make German government impossible in any place where we pitch our tents. We are practised hands at upsetting governments. Our political system is a training school for rebels. This is what makes our very existence an offence to the moral instincts of the German people. They are quite right to want to kill us; the only way to abolish fun and freedom is to abolish life. But I must not be unjust to them; their forethought provides for everything, and no doubt they would prescribe authorized forms of fun for half an hour a week, and would gather together their subjects in public assembly, under municipal regulations, to perform approved exercises in freedom.
Mankind lives by ideas; and if an irreconcilable difference in ideas makes a good war, then this is a good war. The contrast between the two ideas is profound and far-reaching. My business lies in a University. For a good many years before the war certain selected German students, who had had a University education in their own country, came as Rhodes scholars to Oxford. The intention of Mr. Rhodes was benevolent; he thought that if German students were to reside for four years at Oxford and to associate there, at an impressionable time of life, with young Englishmen, understanding and fellowship would be encouraged between the two peoples. But the German government took care to defeat Mr. Rhodes's intention. Instead of sending a small number of students for the full period, as Mr. Rhodes had provided, Germany asked and (by whose mistake I do not know) obtained leave to send a larger number for a shorter stay. The students selected were intended for the political and diplomatic service, and were older than the usual run of Oxford freshmen. Their behaviour had a certain ambassadorial flavour about it. They did not mix much in the many undergraduate societies which flourish in a college, but met together in clubs of their own to drink patriotic toasts. They were nothing if not superior. I remember a conversation I had with one of them who came to consult me. He wished, he said, to do some definite piece of research work in English literature. I asked him what problems or questions in English literature most interested him, and he replied that he would do anything that I advised. We had a talk of some length, wholly at cross-purposes. At last I tried to make my point of view clear by reminding him that research means finding the answer to a question, and that if his reading of English literature, which had been fairly extensive, had suggested no questions to his mind, he was not in the happiest possible position to begin research. This touched his national pride, and he gave me something not unlike a lecture. In Germany, he said, the professor tells you what you are to do; he gives you a subject for investigation, he names the books you are to read, and advises you on what you are to write; you follow his advice, and produce a thesis, which gains you the degree of Doctor of Letters. I have seen a good many of these theses, and I am sure this account is correct. With very rare exceptions they are as dead as mutton, and much less nourishing. The upshot of our conversation was that he thought me an incompetent professor, and I thought him an unprofitable student.
There are many people in England to-day who praise the thoroughness of the Germans, and their devotion to systematic thought. Has any one ever taken the trouble to trace the development of the thesis habit, and its influence on their national life? They theorize everything, and they believe in their theories. They have solemn theories of the English character, of the French character, of the nature of war, of the history of the world. No breath of scepticism dims their complacency, although events steadily prove their theories wrong. They have courage, and when they are seeking truth by the process of reasoning, they accept the conclusions attained by the process, however monstrous these conclusions may be. They not only accept them, they act upon them, and, as every one knows, their behaviour in Belgium was dictated to them by their philosophy.
Thought of this kind is the enemy of the human race. It intoxicates sluggish minds, to whom thought is not natural. It suppresses all the gentler instincts of the heart and supplies a basis of orthodoxy for all the cruelty and treachery in the world. I do not know, none of us knows, when or how this war will end. But I know that it is worth fighting to the end, whatever it may cost to all and each of us. We may have peace with the Germans, the peace of exhaustion or the peace that is only a breathing space in a long struggle. We can never have peace with the German idea. It was not the idea of the older German thinkers—of Kant, or of Goethe, who were good Europeans. Kant said that there is nothing good in the world except the good will. The modern German doctrine is that there is nothing good in the world except what tends to the power and glory of the State. The inventor of this doctrine, it may be remembered, was the Devil, who offered to the Son of Man the glory of all the kingdoms of the world, if only He would fall down and worship him. The Germans, exposed to a like temptation, have accepted the offer and have fulfilled the condition. They can have no assurance that faith will be kept with them. On the other hand, we can have no assurance that they will suffer any signal or dramatic reverse. Human history does not usually observe the laws of melodrama. But we know that their newly purchased doctrine can be fought, in war and in peace, and we know that in the end it will not prevail.
THE FAITH OF ENGLAND
An Address to the Union Society of University College, London, March 22,1917
When Professor W.P. Ker asked me to address you on this ceremonial occasion I felt none of the confidence of the man who knows what he wants to say, and is looking for an audience. But Professor Ker is my old friend, and this place is the place where I picked up many of those fragmentary impressions which I suppose must be called my education. So I thought it would be ungrateful to refuse, even though it should prove that I have nothing to express save goodwill and the affections of memory.
When I matriculated in the University of London and became a student in this place, my professors were Professor Goodwin, Professor Church, Professor Henrici, Professor Groom Robertson, and Professor Henry Morley. I remember all these, though, if they were alive, I do not think that any of them would remember me. The indescribable exhilaration, which must be familiar to many of you, of leaving school and entering college, is in great part the exhilaration of making acquaintance with teachers who care much about their subject and little or nothing about their pupils. To escape from the eternal personal judgements which make a school a place of torment is to walk upon air. The schoolmaster looks at you; the college professor looks the way you are looking. The statements made by Euclid, that thoughtful Greek, are no longer encumbered at college with all those preposterous and irrelevant moral considerations which desolate the atmosphere of a school. The question now is not whether you have perfectly acquainted yourself with what Euclid said, but whether what he said is true. In my earliest days at college I heard a complete exposition of the first six books of Euclid, given in four lectures, with masterly ease and freedom, by Professor Henrici, who did not hesitate to employ methods of demonstration which, though they are perfectly legitimate and convincing, were rejected by the daintiness of the Greek. Professor Groom Robertson introduced his pupils to the mysteries of mental and moral philosophy, and incidentally disaffected some of us by what seemed to us his excessive reverence for the works of Alexander Bain. Those works were our favourite theme for satirical verse, which we did not pain our Professor by publishing. Professor Henry Morley lectured hour after hour to successive classes in a room half way down the passage, on the left. Even overwork could not deaden his enormous vitality; but I hope that his immediate successor does not lecture so often. Outside the classrooms I remember the passages, which resembled the cellars of an unsuccessful sculptor, the library, where I first read Romeo and Juliet, and the refectory, where we discussed human life in most, if not in all, of its aspects. In the neighbourhood of the College there was the classic severity of Gower Street, and, for those who preferred the richer variety of romance, there was always the Tottenham Court Road. Beyond all, and throughout all, there was friendship, and there was freedom. The College was founded, I believe, partly in the interests of those who object to subscribe to a conclusion before they are permitted to examine the grounds for it. It has always been a free place; and if I remember it as a place of delight, that is because I found here the delights of freedom.
My thoughts in these days are never very long away from the War, so that I should feel it difficult to speak of anything else. Yet there are so many ways in which it would be unprofitable for me to pretend to speak of it, that the difficulty remains. I have no knowledge of military or naval strategy. I am not intimately acquainted with Germany or with German culture. I could praise our own people, and our own fighting men, from a full heart; but that, I think, is not exactly what you want from me. So I am reduced to attempting what we have all had to attempt during the past two years or more, to try to state, for myself as much as for you, the meaning of this War so far as we can perceive it.
It seems to be a decree of fate that this country shall be compelled every hundred years to fight for her very life. We live in an island that lies across the mouths of the Rhine, and guards the access to all the ports of northern Europe. In this island we have had enough safety and enough leisure to develop for ourselves a system of constitutional and individual liberty which has had an enormous influence on other nations. It has been admired and imitated; it has also been hated and attacked. To the majority of European statesmen and politicians it has been merely unintelligible. Some of them have regarded it with a kind of superstitious reverence; for we have been very successful in the world at large, and how could so foolish and ineffective a system achieve success except by adventitious aid? Others, including all the statesmen and political theorists who prepared Germany for this War, have refused to admire; the power of England, they have taught, is not real power; she has been crafty and lucky; she has kept herself free from the entanglements and strifes of the Continent, and has enriched herself by filching the property of the combatants. If once she were compelled to hold by force what she won by guile, her pretensions would collapse, and she would fall back into her natural position as a small agricultural island, inhabited by a people whose proudest boast would then be that they are poor cousins of the Germans.
It is difficult to discuss this question with German professors and politicians: they have such simple minds, and they talk like angry children. Their opinions concerning England are not original; their views were held with equal fervour and expressed in very similar language by Philip of Spain in the sixteenth century, by Louis XIV of France in the seventeenth century, and by Napoleon at the close of the eighteenth century. 'These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off.' I will ask you to consider the attack made upon England by each of these three powerful rulers.
Any one who reads the history of these three great wars will feel a sense of illusion, as if he were reading the history of to-day. The points of resemblance in all four wars are so many and so great that it seems as if the four wars were all one war, repeated every century. The cause of the war is always an ambitious ruler who covets supremacy on the European Continent. England is always opposed to him—inevitably and instinctively. It took the Germans twenty years to prepare their people for this War. It took us two days to prepare ours. Our instinct is quick and sound; for the resources and wealth of the Continent, if once they were controlled by a single autocratic power, would make it impossible for England to follow her fortunes upon the sea. But we never stand quite alone. The smaller peoples of the Continent, who desire self-government, or have achieved it, always give the conqueror trouble, and rebel against him or resist him. England always sends help to them, the help of an expeditionary force, or, failing that, the help of irregular volunteers. Sir Philip Sidney dies at Zutphen; Sir John Moore at Corunna. There is always desperate fighting in the Low Countries; and the names of Mons, Liege, Namur, and Lille recur again and again. England always succeeds in maintaining herself, though not without some reverses, on the sea. In the end the power of the master of legions, Philip, Louis, Napoleon, and shall we say William, crumbles and melts; his ambitions are too costly to endure, his people chafe under his lash, and his kingdom falls into insignificance or is transformed by internal revolution.
In all these wars there is one other resemblance which it is good to remember to-day. The position of England, at one time or another in the course of the war, always seems desperate. When Philip of Spain invaded England with the greatest navy of the world, he was met on the seas by a fleet made up chiefly of volunteers. When Louis overshadowed Europe and threatened England, our king was in his pay and had made a secret treaty with him; our statesmen, moreover, had destroyed our alliance with the maritime powers of Sweden and Holland, we had war with the Dutch, and our fleet was beaten by them. During the war against Napoleon we were in an even worse plight; the plausible political doctrines of the Revolution found many sympathizers in this country; our sailors mutinied at the Nore; Ireland was aflame with discontent; and we were involved in the Mahratta War in India, not to mention the naval war with America. Even after Trafalgar, our European allies failed us, Napoleon disposed of Austria and Prussia, and concluded a separate treaty with Russia. It was then that Wordsworth wrote—
''Tis well! from this day forward we shall know That in ourselves our safety must be sought; That by our own right hands it must be wrought; That we must stand unpropped, or be laid low. O dastard whom such foretaste doth not cheer! We shall exult, if they who rule the land Be men who hold its many blessings dear, Wise, upright, valiant; not a servile band, Who are to judge of dangers which they fear, And honour which they do not understand.'
Always in the same cause, we have suffered worse things than we are suffering to-day, and if there is worse to come we hope that we are ready. The youngest and best of us, who carry on and go through with it, though many of them are dead and many more will not live to see the day of victory, have been easily the happiest and most confident among us. They have believed that, at a price, they can save decency and civilization in Europe, and, if they are wrong, they have known, as we know, that the day when decency and civilization are trampled under the foot of the brute is a day when it is good to die.
When I speak of the German nation as the brute I am not speaking controversially or rhetorically; the whole German nation has given its hearty assent to a brutal doctrine of war and politics; no facts need be disputed between us: what to us is their shame, to them is their glory. This is a grave difference; yet it would be wrong to suppose that we can treat it adequately by condemning the whole German nation as a nation of confessed criminals. It is the paradox of war that there is always right on both sides. When a man is ready and willing to sacrifice his life, you cannot deny him the right to choose what he will die for. The most beautiful virtues, faith and courage and devotion, grow like weeds upon the battle-field. The fighters recognize these virtues in each other, and the front lines, for all their mud and slaughter, are breathed on by the airs of heaven. Hate and pusillanimity have little there to nourish them. To find the meaner passions you must seek further back. Johnson, speaking in the Idler of the calamities produced by war, admits that he does not know 'whether more is to be dreaded from streets filled with soldiers accustomed to plunder, or from garrets filled with scribblers accustomed to lie'. Now that our army is the nation in arms, the danger from a lawless soldiery has become less, or has vanished; but the other danger has increased. Journalists are not the only offenders. It is a strange, squalid background for the nobility of the soldier that is made by the deceits and boasts of diplomatists and statesmen. In one of the prison camps of England, some weeks ago, I saw a Saxon boy who had fought bravely for his country. Simplicity and openness and loyalty were written on his face. There are hundreds like him, and I would not mention him if it were not that that same day I read with a new and heightened sense of disgust a speech by the German Chancellor, writhing with timidity and dishonesty and uneasy braggadocio. Those who feel this contrast as I did may be excused, I think, if they come to the conclusion that to talk about war is an accursed trade, and that to fight well, whether on the one side or the other, is the only noble part.