CHAPTER THE SECOND
MR. BRITLING WRITES UNTIL SUNRISE
It was some weeks later. It was now the middle of November, and Mr.
Britling, very warmly wrapped in his thick dressing-gown and his thick
llama wool pyjamas, was sitting at his night desk, and working ever and
again at an essay, an essay of preposterous ambitions, for the title of
it was "The Better Government of the World."
Latterly he had had much sleepless misery. In the day life was
tolerable, but in the night--unless he defended himself by working, the
losses and cruelties of the war came and grimaced at him, insufferably.
Now he would be haunted by long processions of refugees, now he would
think of the dead lying stiff and twisted in a thousand dreadful
attitudes. Then again he would be overwhelmed with anticipations of the
frightful economic and social dissolution that might lie ahead.... At
other times he thought of wounds and the deformities of body and spirit
produced by injuries. And sometimes he would think of the triumph of
evil. Stupid and triumphant persons went about a world that stupidity
had desolated, with swaggering gestures, with a smiling consciousness of
enhanced importance, with their scornful hatred of all measured and
temperate and kindly things turned now to scornful contempt. And
mingling with the soil they walked on lay the dead body of Hugh, face
downward. At the back of the boy's head, rimmed by blood-stiffened
hair--the hair that had once been "as soft as the down of a bird"--was a
big red hole. That hole was always pitilessly distinct. They stepped on
him--heedlessly. They heeled the scattered stuff of his exquisite brain
into the clay....
From all such moods of horror Mr. Britling's circle of lamplight was his
sole refuge. His work could conjure up visions, like opium visions, of a
world of order and justice. Amidst the gloom of world bankruptcy he
stuck to the prospectus of a braver enterprise--reckless of his chances
But this night even this circle of lamplight would not hold his mind.
Doubt had crept into this last fastness. He pulled the papers towards
him, and turned over the portion he had planned.
His purpose in the book he was beginning to write was to reason out the
possible methods of government that would give a stabler, saner control
to the world. He believed still in democracy, but he was realising more
and more that democracy had yet to discover its method. It had to take
hold of the consciences of men, it had to equip itself with still
unformed organisations. Endless years of patient thinking, of
experimenting, of discussion lay before mankind ere this great idea
could become reality, and right, the proven right thing, could rule the
Meanwhile the world must still remain a scene of blood-stained
melodrama, of deafening noise, contagious follies, vast irrational
destructions. One fine life after another went down from study and
university and laboratory to be slain and silenced....
Was it conceivable that this mad monster of mankind would ever be caught
and held in the thin-spun webs of thought?
Was it, after all, anything but pretension and folly for a man to work
out plans for the better government of the world?--was it any better
than the ambitious scheming of some fly upon the wheel of the romantic
Man has come, floundering and wounding and suffering, out of the
breeding darknesses of Time, that will presently crush and consume him
again. Why not flounder with the rest, why not eat, drink, fight,
scream, weep and pray, forget Hugh, stop brooding upon Hugh, banish all
these priggish dreams of "The Better Government of the World," and turn
to the brighter aspects, the funny and adventurous aspects of the war,
the Chestertonian jolliness, _Punch_ side of things? Think you because
your sons are dead that there will be no more cakes and ale? Let mankind
blunder out of the mud and blood as mankind has blundered in....
Let us at any rate keep our precious Sense of Humour....
He pulled his manuscript towards him. For a time he sat decorating the
lettering of his title, "The Better Government of the World," with
little grinning gnomes' heads and waggish tails....
On the top of Mr. Britling's desk, beside the clock, lay a letter,
written in clumsy English and with its envelope resealed by a label
which testified that it had been "OPENED BY CENSOR."
The friendly go-between in Norway had written to tell Mr. Britling that
Herr Heinrich also was dead; he had died a wounded prisoner in Russia
some months ago. He had been wounded and captured, after undergoing
great hardships, during the great Russian attack upon the passes of the
Carpathians in the early spring, and his wound had mortified. He had
recovered partially for a time, and then he had been beaten and injured
again in some struggle between German and Croatian prisoners, and he had
sickened and died. Before he died he had written to his parents, and
once again he had asked that the fiddle he had left in Mr. Britling's
care should if possible be returned to them. It was manifest that both
for him and them now it had become a symbol with many associations.
The substance of this letter invaded the orange circle of the lamp; it
would have to be answered, and the potentialities of the answer were
running through Mr. Britling's brain to the exclusion of any impersonal
composition. He thought of the old parents away there in Pomerania--he
believed but he was not quite sure, that Heinrich had been an only
son--and of the pleasant spectacled figure that had now become a broken
and decaying thing in a prisoner's shallow grave....
Another son had gone--all the world was losing its sons....
He found himself thinking of young Heinrich in the very manner, if with
a lesser intensity, in which he thought about his own son, as of hopes
senselessly destroyed. His mind took no note of the fact that Heinrich
was an enemy, that by the reckoning of a "war of attrition" his death
was balance and compensation for the death of Hugh. He went straight to
the root fact that they had been gallant and kindly beings, and that the
same thing had killed them both....
By no conceivable mental gymnastics could he think of the two as
antagonists. Between them there was no imaginable issue. They had both
very much the same scientific disposition; with perhaps more dash and
inspiration in the quality of Hugh; more docility and method in the case
of Karl. Until war had smashed them one against the other....
He recalled his first sight of Heinrich at the junction, and how he had
laughed at the sight of his excessive Teutonism. The close-cropped
shining fair head surmounted by a yellowish-white corps cap had appeared
dodging about among the people upon the platform, and manifestly asking
questions. The face had been very pink with the effort of an
unaccustomed tongue. The young man had been clad in a suit of white
flannel refined by a purple line; his boots were of that greenish yellow
leather that only a German student could esteem "chic"; his rucksack
was upon his back, and the precious fiddle in its case was carried very
carefully in one hand; this same dead fiddle. The other hand held a
stick with a carved knob and a pointed end. He had been too German for
belief. "Herr Heinrich!" Mr. Britling had said, and straightway the
heels had clashed together for a bow, a bow from the waist, a bow that a
heedless old lady much burthened with garden produce had greatly
disarranged. From first to last amidst our off-hand English ways Herr
Heinrich had kept his bow--and always it had been getting disarranged.
That had been his constant effect; a little stiff, a little absurd, and
always clean and pink and methodical. The boys had liked him without
reserve, Mrs. Britling had liked him; everybody had found him a likeable
creature. He never complained of anything except picnics. But he did
object to picnics; to the sudden departure of the family to wild
surroundings for the consumption of cold, knifeless and forkless meals
in the serious middle hours of the day. He protested to Mr. Britling,
respectfully but very firmly. It was, he held, implicit in their
understanding that he should have a cooked meal in the middle of the
day. Otherwise his Magen was perplexed and disordered. In the evening he
could not eat with any gravity or profit....
Their disposition towards under-feeding and a certain lack of fine
sentiment were the only flaws in the English scheme that Herr Heinrich
admitted. He certainly found the English unfeeling. His heart went even
less satisfied than his Magen. He was a being of expressive affections;
he wanted great friendships, mysterious relationships, love. He tried
very bravely to revere and to understand and be occultly understood by
Mr. Britling; he sought long walks and deep talks with Hugh and the
small boys; he tried to fill his heart with Cissie; he found at last
marvels of innocence and sweetness in the Hickson girl. She wore her
hair in a pigtail when first he met her, and it made her almost
Marguerite. This young man had cried aloud for love, warm and filling,
like the Mittagsessen that was implicit in their understanding. And all
these Essex people failed to satisfy him; they were silent, they were
subtle, they slipped through the fat yet eager fingers of his heart, so
that he fell back at last upon himself and his German correspondents and
the idealisation of Maud Hickson and the moral education of Billy.
Billy. Mr. Britling's memories came back at last to the figure of young
Heinrich with the squirrel on his shoulder, that had so often stood in
the way of the utter condemnation of Germany. That, seen closely, was
the stuff of one brutal Prussian. What quarrel had we with him?...
Other memories of Heinrich flitted across Mr. Britling's reverie.
Heinrich at hockey, running with extreme swiftness and little skill,
tricked and baffled by Letty, dodged by Hugh, going headlong forward and
headlong back, and then with a cry flinging himself flat on the ground
exhausted.... Or again Heinrich very grave and very pink, peering
through his glasses at his cards at Skat.... Or Heinrich in the boats
upon the great pond, or Heinrich swimming, or Heinrich hiding very, very
artfully from the boys about the garden on a theory of his own, or
Heinrich in strange postures, stalking the deer in Claverings Park. For
a time he had had a great ambition to creep quite close to a deer and
_touch_ it.... Or Heinrich indexing. He had a passion for listing and
indexing books, music, any loose classifiable thing. His favourite
amusement was devising schemes for the indentation of dictionary leaves,
so that one could turn instantly to the needed word. He had bought and
cut the edges of three dictionaries; each in succession improved upon
the other; he had had great hopes of patents and wealth arising
therefrom.... And his room had been a source of strange sounds; his
search for music upon the violin. He had hoped when he came to
Matching's Easy to join "some string quartette." But Matching's Easy
produced no string quartette. He had to fall back upon the pianola, and
try to play duets with that. Only the pianola did all the duet itself,
and in the hands of a small Britling was apt to betray a facetious
moodiness; sudden alternations between extreme haste and extreme
Then there came a memory of Heinrich talking very seriously; his glasses
magnifying his round blue eyes, talking of his ideas about life, of his
beliefs and disbeliefs, of his ambitions and prospects in life.
He confessed two principal ambitions. They varied perhaps in their
absolute dimensions, but they were of equal importance in his mind. The
first of these was, so soon as he had taken his doctorate in philology,
to give himself to the perfecting of an International Language; it was
to combine all the virtues of Esperanto and Ido. "And then," said Herr
Heinrich, "I do not think there will be any more wars--ever." The second
ambition, which was important first because Herr Heinrich found much
delight in working at it, and secondly because he thought it would give
him great wealth and opportunity for propagating the perfect speech, was
the elaboration of his system of marginal indentations for dictionaries
and alphabetical books of reference of all sorts. It was to be so
complete that one would just stand over the book to be consulted, run
hand and eye over its edges and open the book--"at the very exact spot."
He proposed to follow this business up with a quite Germanic
thoroughness. "Presently," he said, "I must study the machinery by which
the edges of books are cut. It is possible I may have to invent these
also." This was the double-barrelled scheme of Herr Heinrich's career.
And along it he was to go, and incidentally develop his large vague
heart that was at present so manifestly unsatisfied....
Such was the brief story of Herr Heinrich.
That story was over--just as Hugh's story was over. That first volume
would never now have a second and a third. It ended in some hasty grave
in Russia. The great scheme for marginal indices would never be
patented, the duets with the pianola would never be played again.
Imagination glimpsed a little figure toiling manfully through the slush
and snow of the Carpathians; saw it staggering under its first
experience of shell fire; set it amidst attacks and flights and fatigue
and hunger and a rush perhaps in the darkness; guessed at the wounding
blow. Then came the pitiful pilgrimage of the prisoners into captivity,
captivity in a land desolated, impoverished and embittered. Came wounds
wrapped in filthy rags, pain and want of occupation, and a poor little
bent and broken Heinrich sitting aloof in a crowded compound nursing a
He used always to sit in a peculiar attitude with his arms crossed on
his crossed legs, looking slantingly through his glasses....
So he must have sat, and presently he lay on some rough bedding and
suffered, untended, in infinite discomfort; lay motionless and thought
at times, it may be, of Matching's Easy and wondered what Hugh and Teddy
were doing. Then he became fevered, and the world grew bright-coloured
and fantastic and ugly for him. Until one day an infinite weakness laid
hold of him, and his pain grew faint and all his thoughts and memories
grew faint--and still fainter....
The violin had been brought into Mr. Britling's study that afternoon,
and lay upon the further window-seat. Poor little broken sherd, poor
little fragment of a shattered life! It looked in its case like a baby
in a coffin.
"I must write a letter to the old father and mother," Mr. Britling
thought. "I can't just send the poor little fiddle--without a word. In
all this pitiful storm of witless hate--surely there may be one
"From my blackness to yours," said Mr. Britling aloud. He would have to
write it in English. But even if they knew no English some one would be
found to translate it to them. He would have to write very plainly.
He pushed aside the manuscript of "The Better Government of the World,"
and began to write rather slowly, shaping his letters roundly and
_I am writing this letter to you to tell you I am sending back the
few little things I had kept for your son at his request when the
war broke out. I am sending them--_
Mr. Britling left that blank for the time until he could arrange the
method of sending to the Norwegian intermediary.
_Especially I am sending his violin, which he had asked me thrice to
convey to you. Either it is a gift from you or it symbolised many
things for him that he connected with home and you. I will have it
packed with particular care, and I will do all in my power to ensure
its safe arrival._
_I want to tell you that all the stress and passion of this war has
not made us here in Matching's Easy forget our friend your son. He
was one of us, he had our affection, he had friends here who are
still his friends. We found him honourable and companionable, and we
share something of your loss. I have got together for you a few
snapshots I chance to possess in which you will see him in the
sunshine, and which will enable you perhaps to picture a little more
definitely than you would otherwise do the life he led here. There
is one particularly that I have marked. Our family is lunching
out-of-doors, and you will see that next to your son is a youngster,
a year or so his junior, who is touching glasses with him. I have
put a cross over his head. He is my eldest son, he was very dear to
me, and he too has been, killed in this war. They are, you see,
smiling very pleasantly at each other._
While writing this Mr. Britling had been struck by the thought of the
photographs, and he had taken them out of the little drawer into which
he was accustomed to thrust them. He picked out the ones that showed the
young German, but there were others, bright with sunshine, that were now
charged with acquired significances; there were two showing the children
and Teddy and Hugh and Cissie and Letty doing the goose step, and there
was one of Mr. Van der Pant, smiling at the front door, in Heinrich's
abandoned slippers. There were endless pictures of Teddy also. It is the
happy instinct of the Kodak to refuse those days that are overcast, and
the photographic record of a life is a chain of all its kindlier
aspects. In the drawer above these snapshots there were Hugh's letters
and a miscellany of trivial documents touching on his life.
Mr. Britling discontinued writing and turned these papers over and
mused. Heinrich's letters and postcards had got in among them, and so
had a letter of Teddy's....
The letters reinforced the photographs in their reminder how kind and
pleasant a race mankind can be. Until the wild asses of nationalism came
kicking and slaying amidst them, until suspicion and jostling greed and
malignity poison their minds, until the fools with the high explosives
blow that elemental goodness into shrieks of hate and splashes of blood.
How kindly men are--up to the very instant of their cruelties! His mind
teemed suddenly with little anecdotes and histories of the goodwill of
men breaking through the ill-will of war, of the mutual help of sorely
wounded Germans and English lying together in the mud and darkness
between the trenches, of the fellowship of captors and prisoners, of
the Saxons at Christmas fraternising with the English.... Of that he had
seen photographs in one of the daily papers....
His mind came back presently from these wanderings to the task before
He tried to picture these Heinrich parents. He supposed they were
kindly, civilised people. It was manifest the youngster had come to him
from a well-ordered and gentle-spirited home. But he imagined them--he
could not tell why--as people much older than himself. Perhaps young
Heinrich had on some occasion said they were old people--he could not
remember. And he had a curious impulse too to write to them in phrases
of consolation; as if their loss was more pitiable than his own. He
doubted whether they had the consolation of his sanguine temperament,
whether they could resort as readily as he could to his faith, whether
in Pomerania there was the same consoling possibility of an essay on the
Better Government of the World. He did not think this very clearly, but
that was what was at the back of his mind. He went on writing.
_If you think that these two boys have both perished, not in some
noble common cause but one against the other in a struggle of
dynasties and boundaries and trade routes and tyrannous
ascendancies, then it seems to me that you must feel as I feel that
this war is the most tragic and dreadful thing that has ever
happened to mankind._
He sat thinking for some minutes after he had written that, and when
presently he resumed his writing, a fresh strain of thought was
traceable even in his opening sentence.
_If you count dead and wounds this is the most dreadful war in
history; for you as for me, it has been almost the extremity of
personal tragedy.... Black sorrow.... But is it the most dreadful
_I do not think it is. I can write to you and tell you that I do
indeed believe that our two sons have died not altogether in vain.
Our pain and anguish may not be wasted--may be necessary. Indeed
they may be necessary. Here am I bereaved and wretched--and I hope.
Never was the fabric of war so black; that I admit. But never was
the black fabric of war so threadbare. At a thousand points the
light is shining through._
Mr. Britling's pen stopped.
There was perfect stillness in the study bedroom.
"The tinpot style," said Mr. Britling at last in a voice of extreme
He fell into an extraordinary quarrel with his style. He forgot about
those Pomeranian parents altogether in his exasperation at his own
inexpressiveness, at his incomplete control of these rebel words and
phrases that came trailing each its own associations and suggestions to
hamper his purpose with it. He read over the offending sentence.
"The point is that it is true," he whispered. "It is exactly what I want
His mind stuck on that "exactly."... When one has much to say style is
troublesome. It is as if one fussed with one's uniform before a
battle.... But that is just what one ought to do before a battle.... One
ought to have everything in order....
He took a fresh sheet and made three trial beginnings.
_"War is like a black fabric."_...
_"War is a curtain of black fabric across the pathway."_
_"War is a curtain of dense black fabric across all the hopes and
kindliness of mankind. Yet always it has let through some gleams of
light, and now--I am not dreaming--it grows threadbare, and here and
there and at a thousand points the light is breaking through. We owe
it to all these dear youths--"_
His pen stopped again.
"I must work on a rough draft," said Mr. Britling.
Three hours later Mr. Britling was working by daylight, though his study
lamp was still burning, and his letter to old Heinrich was still no
better than a collection of material for a letter. But the material was
falling roughly into shape, and Mr. Britling's intentions were finding
themselves. It was clear to him now that he was no longer writing as his
limited personal self to those two personal selves grieving, in the old,
large, high-walled, steep-roofed household amidst pine woods, of which
Heinrich had once shown him a picture. He knew them too little for any
such personal address. He was writing, he perceived, not as Mr. Britling
but as an Englishman--that was all he could be to them--and he was
writing to them as Germans; he could apprehend them as nothing more. He
was just England bereaved to Germany bereaved....
He was no longer writing to the particular parents of one particular
boy, but to all that mass of suffering, regret, bitterness and fatigue
that lay behind the veil of the "front." Slowly, steadily, the manhood
of Germany was being wiped out. As he sat there in the stillness he
could think that at least two million men of the Central Powers were
dead, and an equal number maimed and disabled. Compared with that our
British losses, immense and universal as they were by the standard of
any previous experience, were still slight; our larger armies had still
to suffer, and we had lost irrevocably not very much more than a quarter
of a million. But the tragedy gathered against us. We knew enough
already to know what must be the reality of the German homes to which
those dead men would nevermore return....
If England had still the longer account to pay, the French had paid
already nearly to the limits of endurance. They must have lost well over
a million of their mankind, and still they bled and bled. Russia too in
the East had paid far more than man for man in this vast swapping off of
lives. In a little while no Censorship would hold the voice of the
peoples. There would be no more talk of honour and annexations,
hegemonies and trade routes, but only Europe lamenting for her dead....
The Germany to which he wrote would be a nation of widows and children,
rather pinched boys and girls, crippled men, old men, deprived men, men
who had lost brothers and cousins and friends and ambitions. No triumph
now on land or sea could save Germany from becoming that. France too
would be that, Russia, and lastly Britain, each in their degree. Before
the war there had been no Germany to which an Englishman could appeal;
Germany had been a threat, a menace, a terrible trampling of armed men.
It was as little possible then to think of talking to Germany as it
would have been to have stopped the Kaiser in mid career in his hooting
car down the Unter den Linden and demand a quiet talk with him. But the
Germany that had watched those rushes with a slightly doubting pride had
her eyes now full of tears and blood. She had believed, she had obeyed,
and no real victory had come. Still she fought on, bleeding, agonising,
wasting her substance and the substance of the whole world, to no
conceivable end but exhaustion, so capable she was, so devoted, so proud
and utterly foolish. And the mind of Germany, whatever it was before the
war, would now be something residual, something left over and sitting
beside a reading-lamp as he was sitting beside a reading-lamp, thinking,
sorrowing, counting the cost, looking into the dark future....
And to that he wrote, to that dimly apprehended figure outside a circle
of the light like his own circle of light--which was the father of
Heinrich, which was great Germany, Germany which lived before and which
will yet outlive the flapping of the eagles....
_Our boys_, he wrote, _have died, fighting one against the other.
They have been fighting upon an issue so obscure that your German
press is still busy discussing what it was. For us it was that
Belgium was invaded and France in danger of destruction. Nothing
else could have brought the English into the field against you. But
why you invaded Belgium and France and whether that might have been
averted we do not know to this day. And still this war goes on and
still more boys die, and these men who do not fight, these men in
the newspaper offices and in the ministries plan campaigns and
strokes and counter-strokes that belong to no conceivable plan at
all. Except that now for them there is something more terrible than
war. And that is the day of reckoning with their own people._
_What have we been fighting for? What are we fighting for? Do you
know? Does any one know? Why am I spending what is left of my
substance and you what is left of yours to keep on this war against
each other? What have we to gain from hurting one another still
further? Why should we be puppets any longer in the hands of crowned
fools and witless diplomatists? Even if we were dumb and acquiescent
before, does not the blood of our sons now cry out to us that this
foolery should cease? We have let these people send our sons to
_It is you and I who must stop these wars, these massacres of boys._
_Massacres of boys! That indeed is the essence of modern war. The
killing off of the young. It is the destruction of the human
inheritance, it is the spending of all the life and material of the
future upon present-day hate and greed. Fools and knaves,
politicians, tricksters, and those who trade on the suspicions and
thoughtless, generous angers of men, make wars; the indolence and
modesty of the mass of men permit them. Are you and I to suffer such
things until the whole fabric of our civilisation, that has been so
slowly and so laboriously built up, is altogether destroyed?_
_When I sat down to write to you I had meant only to write to you of
your son and mine. But I feel that what can be said in particular of
our loss, need not be said; it can be understood without saying.
What needs to be said and written about is this, that war must be
put an end to and that nobody else but you and me and all of us can
do it. We have to do that for the love of our sons and our race and
all that is human. War is no longer human; the chemist and the
metallurgist have changed all that. My boy was shot through the eye;
his brain was blown to pieces by some man who never knew what he had
done. Think what that means!... It is plain to me, surely it is
plain to you and all the world, that war is now a mere putting of
the torch to explosives that flare out to universal ruin. There is
nothing for one sane man to write to another about in these days but
the salvation of mankind from war._
_Now I want you to be patient with me and hear me out. There was a
time in the earlier part of this war when it was hard to be patient
because there hung over us the dread of losses and disaster. Now we
need dread no longer. The dreaded thing has happened. Sitting
together as we do in spirit beside the mangled bodies of our dead,
surely we can be as patient as the hills._
_I want to tell you quite plainly and simply that I think that
Germany which is chief and central in this war is most to blame for
this war. Writing to you as an Englishman to a German and with war
still being waged, there must be no mistake between us upon this
point. I am persuaded that in the decade that ended with your
overthrow of France in 1871, Germany turned her face towards evil,
and that her refusal to treat France generously and to make friends
with any other great power in the world, is the essential cause of
this war. Germany triumphed--and she trampled on the loser. She
inflicted intolerable indignities. She set herself to prepare for
further aggressions; long before this killing began she was making
war upon land and sea, launching warships, building strategic
railways, setting up a vast establishment of war material,
threatening, straining all the world to keep pace with her
threats.... At last there was no choice before any European nation
but submission to the German will, or war. And it was no will to
which righteous men could possibly submit. It came as an illiberal
and ungracious will. It was the will of Zabern. It is not as if you
had set yourselves to be an imperial people and embrace and unify
the world. You did not want to unify the world. You wanted to set
the foot of an intensely national Germany, a sentimental and
illiberal Germany, a Germany that treasured the portraits of your
ridiculous Kaiser and his litter of sons, a Germany wearing uniform,
reading black letter, and despising every kultur but her own, upon
the neck of a divided and humiliated mankind. It was an intolerable
prospect. I had rather the whole world died._
_Forgive me for writing "you." You are as little responsible for
that Germany as I am for--Sir Edward Grey. But this happened over
you; you did not do your utmost to prevent it--even as England has
happened, and I have let it happen over me...._
"It is so dry; so general," whispered Mr. Britling. "And yet--it is this
that has killed our sons."
He sat still for a time, and then went on reading a fresh sheet of his
_When I bring these charges against Germany I have little
disposition to claim any righteousness for Britain. There has been
small splendour in this war for either Germany or Britain or Russia;
we three have chanced to be the biggest of the combatants, but the
glory lies with invincible France. It is France and Belgium and
Serbia who shine as the heroic lands. They have fought defensively
and beyond all expectation, for dear land and freedom. This war for
them has been a war of simple, definite issues, to which they have
risen with an entire nobility. Englishman and German alike may well
envy them that simplicity. I look to you, as an honest man schooled
by the fierce lessons of this war, to meet me in my passionate
desire to see France, Belgium and Serbia emerge restored from all
this blood and struggle, enlarged to the limits of their
nationality, vindicated and secure. Russia I will not write about
here; let me go on at once to tell you about my own country;
remarking only that between England and Russia there are endless
parallelisms. We have similar complexities, kindred difficulties. We
have for instance an imported dynasty, we have a soul-destroying
State Church which cramps and poisons the education of our ruling
class, we have a people out of touch with a secretive government,
and the same traditional contempt for science. We have our Irelands
and Polands. Even our kings bear a curious likeness...._
At this point there was a break in the writing, and Mr. Britling made,
as it were, a fresh beginning.
_Politically the British Empire is a clumsy collection of strange
accidents. It is a thing as little to be proud of as the outline of
a flint or the shape of a potato. For the mass of English people
India and Egypt and all that side of our system mean less than
nothing; our trade is something they do not understand, our imperial
wealth something they do not share. Britain has been a group of
four democracies caught in the net of a vast yet casual imperialism;
the common man here is in a state of political perplexity from the
cradle to the grave. None the less there is a great people here even
as there is a great people in Russia, a people with a soul and
character of its own, a people of unconquerable kindliness and with
a peculiar genius, which still struggle towards will and expression.
We have been beginning that same great experiment that France and
America and Switzerland and China are making, the experiment of
democracy. It is the newest form of human association, and we are
still but half awake to its needs and necessary conditions. For it
is idle to pretend that the little city democracies of ancient times
were comparable to the great essays in practical republicanism that
mankind is making to-day. This age of the democratic republics that
dawn is a new age. It has not yet lasted for a century, not for a
paltry hundred years.... All new things are weak things; a rat can
kill a man-child with ease; the greater the destiny, the weaker the
immediate self-protection may be. And to me it seems that your
complete and perfect imperialism, ruled by Germans for Germans, is
in its scope and outlook a more antiquated and smaller and less
noble thing than these sprawling emergent giant democracies of the
West that struggle so confusedly against it...._
_But that we do struggle confusedly, with pitiful leaders and
infinite waste and endless delay; that it is to our indisciplines
and to the dishonesties and tricks our incompleteness provokes, that
the prolongation of this war is to be ascribed, I readily admit. At
the outbreak of this war I had hoped to see militarism felled within
From this point onward Mr. Britling's notes became more fragmentary.
They had a consecutiveness, but they were discontinuous. His thought had
leapt across gaps that his pen had had no time to fill. And he had
begun to realise that his letter to the old people in Pomerania was
becoming impossible. It had broken away into dissertation.
"Yet there must be dissertations," he said. "Unless such men as we are
take these things in hand, always we shall be misgoverned, always the
sons will die...."
_I do not think you Germans realise how steadily you were conquering
the world before this war began. Had you given half the energy and
intelligence you have spent upon this war to the peaceful conquest
of men's minds and spirits, I believe that you would have taken the
leadership of the world tranquilly--no man disputing. Your science
was five years, your social and economic organisation was a quarter
of a century in front of ours.... Never has it so lain in the power
of a great people to lead and direct mankind towards the world
republic and universal peace. It needed but a certain generosity of
_But your Junkers, your Imperial court, your foolish vicious
Princes; what were such dreams to them?... With an envious
satisfaction they hurled all the accomplishment of Germany into the
fires of war...._
_Your boy, as no doubt you know, dreamt constantly of such a world
peace as this that I foreshadow; he was more generous than his
country. He could envisage war and hostility only as
misunderstanding. He thought that a world that could explain itself
clearly would surely be at peace. He was scheming always therefore
for the perfection and propagation of Esperanto or Ido, or some such
universal link. My youngster too was full of a kindred and yet
larger dream, the dream of human science, which knows neither king
nor country nor race_....
_These boys, these hopes, this war has killed_....
That fragment ended so. Mr. Britling ceased to read for a time. "But has
it killed them?" he whispered....
"If you had lived, my dear, you and your England would have talked with
a younger Germany--better than I can ever do...."
He turned the pages back, and read here and there with an accumulating
"Dissertations," said Mr. Britling.
Never had it been so plain to Mr. Britling that he was a weak, silly,
ill-informed and hasty-minded writer, and never had he felt so
invincible a conviction that the Spirit of God was in him, and that it
fell to him to take some part in the establishment of a new order of
living upon the earth; it might be the most trivial part by the scale of
the task, but for him it was to be now his supreme concern. And it was
an almost intolerable grief to him that his services should be, for all
his desire, so poor in quality, so weak in conception. Always he seemed
to be on the verge of some illuminating and beautiful statement of his
cause; always he was finding his writing inadequate, a thin treachery to
the impulse of his heart, always he was finding his effort weak and
ineffective. In this instance, at the outset he seemed to see with a
golden clearness the message of brotherhood, or forgiveness, of a common
call. To whom could such a message be better addressed than to those
sorrowing parents; from whom could it come with a better effect than
from himself? And now he read what he had made of this message. It
seemed to his jaded mind a pitifully jaded effort. It had no light, it
had no depth. It was like the disquisition of a debating society.
He was distressed by a fancy of an old German couple, spectacled and
peering, puzzled by his letter. Perhaps they would be obscurely hurt by
his perplexing generalisations. Why, they would ask, should this
Englishman preach to them?
He sat back in his chair wearily, with his chin sunk upon his chest. For
a time he did not think, and then, he read again the sentence in front
of his eyes.
_"These boys, these hopes, this war has killed."_
The words hung for a time in his mind.
"No!" said Mr. Britling stoutly. "They live!"
And suddenly it was borne in upon his mind that he was not alone. There
were thousands and tens of thousands of men and women like himself,
desiring with all their hearts to say, as he desired to say, the
reconciling word. It was not only his hand that thrust against the
obstacles.... Frenchmen and Russians sat in the same stillness, facing
the same perplexities; there were Germans seeking a way through to him.
Even as he sat and wrote. And for the first time clearly he felt a
Presence of which he had thought very many times in the last few weeks,
a Presence so close to him that it was behind his eyes and in his brain
and hands. It was no trick of his vision; it was a feeling of immediate
reality. And it was Hugh, Hugh that he had thought was dead, it was
young Heinrich living also, it was himself, it was those others that
sought, it was all these and it was more, it was the Master, the Captain
of Mankind, it was God, there present with him, and he knew that it was
God. It was as if he had been groping all this time in the darkness,
thinking himself alone amidst rocks and pitfalls and pitiless things,
and suddenly a hand, a firm strong hand, had touched his own. And a
voice within him bade him be of good courage. There was no magic
trickery in that moment; he was still weak and weary, a discouraged
rhetorician, a good intention ill-equipped; but he was no longer lonely
and wretched, no longer in the same world with despair. God was beside
him and within him and about him.... It was the crucial moment of Mr.
Britling's life. It was a thing as light as the passing of a cloud on an
April morning; it was a thing as great as the first day of creation. For
some moments he still sat back with his chin upon his chest and his
hands dropping from the arms of his chair. Then he sat up and drew a
This had come almost as a matter of course.
For weeks his mind had been playing about this idea. He had talked to
Letty of this Finite God, who is the king of man's adventure in space
and time. But hitherto God had been for him a thing of the intelligence,
a theory, a report, something told about but not realised.... Mr.
Britling's thinking about God hitherto had been like some one who has
found an empty house, very beautiful and pleasant, full of the promise
of a fine personality. And then as the discoverer makes his lonely,
curious explorations, he hears downstairs, dear and friendly, the voice
of the Master coming in....
There was no need to despair because he himself was one of the feeble
folk. God was with him indeed, and he was with God. The King was coming
to his own. Amidst the darknesses and confusions, the nightmare
cruelties and the hideous stupidities of the great war, God, the Captain
of the World Republic, fought his way to empire. So long as one did
one's best and utmost in a cause so mighty, did it matter though the
thing one did was little and poor?
"I have thought too much of myself," said Mr. Britling, "and of what I
would do by myself. I have forgotten _that which was with me_...."
He turned over the rest of the night's writing presently, and read it
now as though it was the work of another man.
These later notes were fragmentary, and written in a sprawling hand.
_"Let us make ourselves watchers and guardians of the order of the
_"If only for love of our dead...._
_"Let us pledge ourselves to service. Let us set ourselves with all
our minds and all our hearts to the perfecting and working out of
the methods of democracy and the ending for ever of the kings and
emperors and priestcrafts and the bands of adventurers, the traders
and owners and forestallers who have betrayed mankind into this
morass of hate and blood--in which our sons are lost--in which we
How feeble was this squeak of exhortation! It broke into a scolding
"Who have betrayed," read Mr. Britling, and judged the phrase.
"Who have fallen with us," he amended....
"One gets so angry and bitter--because one feels alone, I suppose.
Because one feels that for them one's reason is no reason. One is
enraged by the sense of their silent and regardless contradiction, and
one forgets the Power of which one is a part...."
The sheet that bore the sentence he criticised was otherwise blank
except that written across it obliquely in a very careful hand were the
words "Hugh," and "Hugh Philip Britling."...
On the next sheet he had written: "Let us set up the peace of the World
Republic amidst these ruins. Let it be our religion, our calling."
There he had stopped.
The last sheet of Mr. Britling's manuscript may be more conveniently
given in fac-simile than described.
My dear Hugh
Dealers in Contention
'Blood Blood ...
[Transcriber's Note: illegible] an End to them
He looked at the scattered papers, and thought of the letter they were
to have made.
His fatigue spoke first.
"Perhaps after all I'd better just send the fiddle...."
He rested his cheeks between his hands, and remained so for a long time.
His eyes stared unseeingly. His thoughts wandered and spread and faded.
At length he recalled his mind to that last idea. "Just send the
fiddle--without a word."
"No. I must write to them plainly.
"About God as I have found Him.
"As He has found me...."
He forgot the Pomeranians for a time. He murmured to himself. He turned
over the conviction that had suddenly become clear and absolute in his
"Religion is the first thing and the last thing, and until a man has
found God and been found by God, he begins at no beginning, he works to
no end. He may have his friendships, his partial loyalties, his scraps
of honour. But all these things fall into place and life falls into
place only with God. Only with God. God, who fights through men against
Blind Force and Night and Non-Existence; who is the end, who is the
meaning. He is the only King.... Of course I must write about Him. I
must tell all my world of Him. And before the coming of the true King,
the inevitable King, the King who is present whenever just men
foregather, this blood-stained rubbish of the ancient world, these puny
kings and tawdry emperors, these wily politicians and artful lawyers,
these men who claim and grab and trick and compel, these war makers and
oppressors, will presently shrivel and pass--like paper thrust into a
Then after a time he said:
"Our sons who have shown us God...."
He rubbed his open hands over his eyes and forehead.
The night of effort had tired his brain, and he was no longer thinking
actively. He had a little interval of blankness, sitting at his desk
with his hands pressed over his eyes....
He got up presently, and stood quite motionless at the window, looking
His lamp was still burning, but for some time he had not been writing by
the light of his lamp. Insensibly the day had come and abolished his
need for that individual circle of yellow light. Colour had returned to
the world, clean pearly colour, clear and definite like the glance of a
child or the voice of a girl, and a golden wisp of cloud hung in the sky
over the tower of the church. There was a mist upon the pond, a soft
grey mist not a yard high. A covey of partridges ran and halted and ran
again in the dewy grass outside his garden railings. The partridges were
very numerous this year because there had been so little shooting.
Beyond in the meadow a hare sat up as still as a stone. A horse
neighed.... Wave after wave of warmth and light came sweeping before the
sunrise across the world of Matching's Easy. It was as if there was
nothing but morning and sunrise in the world.
From away towards the church came the sound of some early worker
whetting a scythe.