Shoreham Camp, Sussex England
It is Sunday afternoon exactly four o’clock on one of the first fine days, the first I think, which August has brought in. I am sitting in the Y.M.C.A which is almost deserted at this hour and consequently very quiet. I was sleeping until an hour ago being very tired after going to Brighton last night. This morning we had the first church parade since coming to the camp. It was an out of door service and someway, I fancy, the chaplan was a Presbyterian because he preached rather a good little sermon in which he referred to the possibility of the war coming to an end through a rise of democratic feeling through Europe in general and in Germany in particular. One cannot help feeling that while the Germans may be more thoroughly saturated with militaristic ideas than any other people the English ran them a good second. It is not only the popular illustrated papers which pander to the worst instincts of the unthinking public but a considerable section of the more dignified and thoughtful pass still insists on a crushing military victory as the panacea to prevent such a catastrophe as this ever occurring again. There is a campaign on at the present to prevent British socialists from taking part in the conference at Stockholm, a conference which it seems to me ought to be an event of the utmost historical importance as it will be the first time that the only classes of people from the various countries who sincerely and thoughtfully wish to abolish all war have ever met together under circumstances which will test how far the international ideal has progressed. I have come to the conclusion that the great fault in most people’s thinking is that they never realize the complexity and intricacy of things. This of course is considering their thought spent for the violent and prejudices by which the great majority are swayed and upon the [?] of which they act. In tackling any problem, especially an in[?]tigation of the causes of any great movement it is extremely difficult even for a well trained intellect to collect and sift all the evidence and at the same time remain clear in mind and orderly in expression of the thought. It is so easy to be simple, clear, logical, and convincing if one is willing to overlook far reaching implications and apparent contradictions. On the other hand the realizations of complexity so often leads to hopeless chases and despair. There are a number of journals which the their useful and educational work. Best of all I think is ‘The Nation’ then ‘The New Republic’ and the labor weeklies. Even Mr. Snowden’s paper ‘The London Leader’ which makes no distinction in the moral responsibility of the belligerents has a clear view of the truth than the ‘Saturday Review’ and ‘The Morning Post.’
I dislike the habit of calling Radicals white and the Tories black because I think I realize more than ever before the value of conservative forces in life and the help one can get from all the experience of the past. Yet it seems that there will be a vital necessity in the next few years of keeping progressive ideals steadily to the fore, and that there is soon for immense educational want, popular educational work in the sphere of international politics. For it comes down to this that you can’t reconstruct the world unless you first change people’s ideas and states of mind about the world since upon their will the change always rests. One gets impatient with democracy at times, yet at the same time has to realize that in the long run reform carried out by the people themselves is he only reform worthwhile, even though it may mean the slow progress of centuries. How necessary it is for idealists who are not mere sentimentalists to possess infinite patience!
Thanks very much for sending me ‘A Student in Arms’ I had been wanting to read it for some time but had to get along with reviews and extracts. It is a fine example of the habit of making the best of things. One ought to do that, I suppose, certainly when one is actually engaged in a nasty job (that is where I have failed completely so far) It is necessary too though in reflecting upon all experience not to make the best of it or the worst of it but to see it as it actually is – i.e. objectively. This of course, is impossible. One can only approximate. People get a glimpse of reality occasionally in religion , in art and perhaps sometimes in philosophy.. But in action as Hankey always does, it is a wonderful thing to be able to keep the good that is mixed up with all the evil constantly in view, to never lose sight of it for an instant. Another thing that struck me as very true was the statement that war reveals, especially to himself, the sheer character of a man. It is absolutely merciless in the way it bares the soul to the most vital test and puts the spot light on the diseased parts until often a fellow who thought before that he was made of half decent material realizes that he is mostly shoddy. When he reaches that stage he either makes an effort to put in some strong stuff or falls to pieces in despair. Fortunate is he indeed if he knows where to generate his power and develop his latent qualities within! I am sure that everyone has potential qualities which can be developed if they only find the way. And the most tragic and hopeless thing in life to me is that so many, through no fault of their own I believe at present, though I may be mistaken are never able to find out the secret. The chapter called ‘A Sense of the Dramatic’ contained a splendid idea too. To get outside of oneself and to watch the part that one is playing on the stage of the world ought to help one to realize sometimes that he is acting like a jackass rather than playing the part of a martyr. I am going to send the book home as I want to keep it along with a few other books.
While we were at Chisledon I read the first volume of ‘Sinister Street’ by Compton Mackenzie. It was an so interesting that I started to hunt all over England for the second volume, but was unsuccessful in my search until the other night at Brighton I found a second hand copy in good condition for two bob. The book complete runs to a length of nearly 1200 pages so that in size at least it is one of the greatest fictional achievements of our time. But apart from its size I think that it is a remarkable book. The auther recounts the experience going into somewhat minute detail of a young man from his centrist recollection to the age of twenty-three. The method he takes is the modern analytical psychological wy of portraying character. I am not sure that it is [?] sound a way as the revelation of character through action but it is undeniably interesting. Like most modern novels which deal with existing conditions the author presents a good many ugly sides of life with the utmost frankness and his absence of reserve in dealing with certain aspects of sex relationship might prove disconcerting to some people. Nevertheless I liked the book immensely for its truth and because the author realized through all the discord of existence the beauty of life and the value of religion in human experience in a way that Arnold Bennett for example fails to do.
In the last letter I wrote mother I unnecessarily referred to the possibility of going to the infantry. It has since occurred to me that it is better not to mention any change in condition till it has actually taken place and so avoid giving any cause for anxiety. There is no need for anxiety anymore as I am still in Shoreham until I do go to the infantry that will in all probability prevent me from serving in any combatant capacity.
With very much love,