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Notes on Life and Letters by Joseph Conrad

Part 3 out of 4

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seems to shut from them every hope, expressed or unexpressed, of a
national future nursed through more than a hundred years of
suffering and oppression.

Through most of these years, and especially since 1830, Poland (I
use this expression since Poland exists as a spiritual entity today
as definitely as it ever existed in her past) has put her faith in
the Western Powers. Politically it may have been nothing more than
a consoling illusion, and the nation had a half-consciousness of
this. But what Poland was looking for from the Western Powers
without discouragement and with unbroken confidence was moral

This is a fact of the sentimental order. But such facts have their
positive value, for their idealism derives from perhaps the highest
kind of reality. A sentiment asserts its claim by its force,
persistence and universality. In Poland that sentimental attitude
towards the Western Powers is universal. It extends to all
classes. The very children are affected by it as soon as they
begin to think.

The political value of such a sentiment consists in this, that it
is based on profound resemblances. Therefore one can build on it
as if it were a material fact. For the same reason it would be
unsafe to disregard it if one proposed to build solidly. The
Poles, whom superficial or ill-informed theorists are trying to
force into the social and psychological formula of Slavonism, are
in truth not Slavonic at all. In temperament, in feeling, in mind,
and even in unreason, they are Western, with an absolute
comprehension of all Western modes of thought, even of those which
are remote from their historical experience.

That element of racial unity which may be called Polonism, remained
compressed between Prussian Germanism on one side and the Russian
Slavonism on the other. For Germanism it feels nothing but hatred.
But between Polonism and Slavonism there is not so much hatred as a
complete and ineradicable incompatibility.

No political work of reconstructing Poland either as a matter of
justice or expediency could be sound which would leave the new
creation in dependence to Germanism or to Slavonism.

The first need not be considered. The second must be--unless the
Powers elect to drop the Polish question either under the cover of
vague assurances or without any disguise whatever.

But if it is considered it will be seen at once that the Slavonic
solution of the Polish Question can offer no guarantees of duration
or hold the promise of security for the peace of Europe.

The only basis for it would be the Grand Duke's Manifesto. But
that Manifesto, signed by a personage now removed from Europe to
Asia, and by a man, moreover, who if true to himself, to his
conception of patriotism and to his family tradition could not have
put his hand to it with any sincerity of purpose, is now divested
of all authority. The forcible vagueness of its promises, its
startling inconsistency with the hundred years of ruthlessly
denationalising oppression permit one to doubt whether it was ever
meant to have any authority.

But in any case it could have had no effect. The very nature of
things would have brought to nought its professed intentions.

It is impossible to suppose that a State of Russia's power and
antecedents would tolerate a privileged community (of, to Russia,
unnational complexion) within the body of the Empire. All history
shows that such an arrangement, however hedged in by the most
solemn treaties and declarations, cannot last. In this case it
would lead to a tragic issue. The absorption of Polonism is
unthinkable. The last hundred years of European History proves it
undeniably. There remains then extirpation, a process of blood and
iron; and the last act of the Polish drama would be played then
before a Europe too weary to interfere, and to the applause of

It would not be just to say that the disappearance of Polonism
would add any strength to the Slavonic power of expansion. It
would add no strength, but it would remove a possibly effective
barrier against the surprises the future of Europe may hold in
store for the Western Powers.

Thus the question whether Polonism is worth saving presents itself
as a problem of politics with a practical bearing on the stability
of European peace--as a barrier or perhaps better (in view of its
detached position) as an outpost of the Western Powers placed
between the great might of Slavonism which has not yet made up its
mind to anything, and the organised Germanism which has spoken its
mind with no uncertain voice, before the world.

Looked at in that light alone Polonism seems worth saving. That it
has lived so long on its trust in the moral support of the Western
Powers may give it another and even stronger claim, based on a
truth of a more profound kind. Polonism had resisted the utmost
efforts of Germanism and Slavonism for more than a hundred years.
Why? Because of the strength of its ideals conscious of their
kinship with the West. Such a power of resistance creates a moral
obligation which it would be unsafe to neglect. There is always a
risk in throwing away a tool of proved temper.

In this profound conviction of the practical and ideal worth of
Polonism one approaches the problem of its preservation with a very
vivid sense of the practical difficulties derived from the grouping
of the Powers. The uncertainty of the extent and of the actual
form of victory for the Allies will increase the difficulty of
formulating a plan of Polish regeneration at the present moment.

Poland, to strike its roots again into the soil of political
Europe, will require a guarantee of security for the healthy
development and for the untrammelled play of such institutions as
she may be enabled to give to herself.

Those institutions will be animated by the spirit of Polonism,
which, having been a factor in the history of Europe and having
proved its vitality under oppression, has established its right to
live. That spirit, despised and hated by Germany and incompatible
with Slavonism because of moral differences, cannot avoid being (in
its renewed assertion) an object of dislike and mistrust.

As an unavoidable consequence of the past Poland will have to begin
its existence in an atmosphere of enmities and suspicions. That
advanced outpost of Western civilisation will have to hold its
ground in the midst of hostile camps: always its historical fate.

Against the menace of such a specially dangerous situation the
paper and ink of public Treaties cannot be an effective defence.
Nothing but the actual, living, active participation of the two
Western Powers in the establishment of the new Polish commonwealth,
and in the first twenty years of its existence, will give the Poles
a sufficient guarantee of security in the work of restoring their
national life.

An Anglo-French protectorate would be the ideal form of moral and
material support. But Russia, as an ally, must take her place in
it on such a footing as will allay to the fullest extent her
possible apprehensions and satisfy her national sentiment. That
necessity will have to be formally recognised.

In reality Russia has ceased to care much for her Polish
possessions. Public recognition of a mistake in political morality
and a voluntary surrender of territory in the cause of European
concord, cannot damage the prestige of a powerful State. The new
spheres of expansion in regions more easily assimilable, will more
than compensate Russia for the loss of territory on the Western
frontier of the Empire.

The experience of Dual Controls and similar combinations has been
so unfortunate in the past that the suggestion of a Triple
Protectorate may well appear at first sight monstrous even to
unprejudiced minds. But it must be remembered that this is a
unique case and a problem altogether exceptional, justifying the
employment of exceptional means for its solution. To those who
would doubt the possibility of even bringing such a scheme into
existence the answer may be made that there are psychological
moments when any measure tending towards the ends of concord and
justice may be brought into being. And it seems that the end of
the war would be the moment for bringing into being the political
scheme advocated in this note.

Its success must depend on the singleness of purpose in the
contracting Powers, and on the wisdom, the tact, the abilities, the
good-will of men entrusted with its initiation and its further
control. Finally it may be pointed out that this plan is the only
one offering serious guarantees to all the parties occupying their
respective positions within the scheme.

If her existence as a state is admitted as just, expedient and
necessary, Poland has the moral right to receive her constitution
not from the hand of an old enemy, but from the Western Powers
alone, though of course with the fullest concurrence of Russia.

This constitution, elaborated by a committee of Poles nominated by
the three Governments, will (after due discussion and amendment by
the High Commissioners of the Protecting Powers) be presented to
Poland as the initial document, the charter of her new life, freely
offered and unreservedly accepted.

It should be as simple and short as a written constitution can be--
establishing the Polish Commonwealth, settling the lines of
representative institutions, the form of judicature, and leaving
the greatest measure possible of self-government to the provinces
forming part of the re-created Poland.

This constitution will be promulgated immediately after the three
Powers had settled the frontiers of the new State, including the
town of Danzic (free port) and a proportion of seaboard. The
legislature will then be called together and a general treaty will
regulate Poland's international portion as a protected state, the
status of the High Commissioners and such-like matters. The
legislature will ratify, thus making Poland, as it were, a party in
the establishment of the protectorate. A point of importance.

Other general treaties will define Poland's position in the Anglo-
Franco-Russian alliance, fix the numbers of the army, and settle
the participation of the Powers in its organisation and training.


I have never believed in political assassination as a means to an
end, and least of all in assassination of the dynastic order. I
don't know how far murder can ever approach the perfection of a
fine art, but looked upon with the cold eye of reason it seems but
a crude expedient of impatient hope or hurried despair. There are
few men whose premature death could influence human affairs more
than on the surface. The deeper stream of causes depends not on
individuals who, like the mass of mankind, are carried on by a
destiny which no murder has ever been able to placate, divert, or

In July of last year I was a stranger in a strange city in the
Midlands and particularly out of touch with the world's politics.
Never a very diligent reader of newspapers, there were at that time
reasons of a private order which caused me to be even less informed
than usual on public affairs as presented from day to day in that
necessarily atmosphereless, perspectiveless manner of the daily
papers, which somehow, for a man possessed of some historic sense,
robs them of all real interest. I don't think I had looked at a
daily for a month past.

But though a stranger in a strange city I was not lonely, thanks to
a friend who had travelled there out of pure kindness to bear me
company in a conjuncture which, in a most private sense, was
somewhat trying.

It was this friend who, one morning at breakfast, informed me of
the murder of the Archduke Ferdinand.

The impression was mediocre. I was barely aware that such a man
existed. I remembered only that not long before he had visited
London. The recollection was rather of a cloud of insignificant
printed words his presence in this country provoked.

Various opinions had been expressed of him, but his importance was
Archducal, dynastic, purely accidental. Can there be in the world
of real men anything more shadowy than an Archduke? And now he was
no more; removed with an atrocity of circumstances which made one
more sensible of his humanity than when he was in life. I
connected that crime with Balkanic plots and aspirations so little
that I had actually to ask where it had happened. My friend told
me it was in Serajevo, and wondered what would be the consequences
of that grave event. He asked me what I thought would happen next.

It was with perfect sincerity that I answered "Nothing," and having
a great repugnance to consider murder as a factor of politics, I
dismissed the subject. It fitted with my ethical sense that an act
cruel and absurd should be also useless. I had also the vision of
a crowd of shadowy Archdukes in the background, out of which one
would step forward to take the place of that dead man in the light
of the European stage. And then, to speak the whole truth, there
was no man capable of forming a judgment who attended so little to
the march of events as I did at that time. What for want of a more
definite term I must call my mind was fixed upon my own affairs,
not because they were in a bad posture, but because of their
fascinating holiday-promising aspect. I had been obtaining my
information as to Europe at second hand, from friends good enough
to come down now and then to see us. They arrived with their
pockets full of crumpled newspapers, and answered my queries
casually, with gentle smiles of scepticism as to the reality of my
interest. And yet I was not indifferent; but the tension in the
Balkans had become chronic after the acute crisis, and one could
not help being less conscious of it. It had wearied out one's
attention. Who could have guessed that on that wild stage we had
just been looking at a miniature rehearsal of the great world-
drama, the reduced model of the very passions and violences of what
the future held in store for the Powers of the Old World? Here and
there, perhaps, rare minds had a suspicion of that possibility,
while they watched Old Europe stage-managing fussily by means of
notes and conferences, the prophetic reproduction of its awaiting
fate. It was wonderfully exact in the spirit; same roar of guns,
same protestations of superiority, same words in the air; race,
liberation, justice--and the same mood of trivial demonstrations.
One could not take to-day a ticket for Petersburg. "You mean
Petrograd," would say the booking clerk. Shortly after the fall of
Adrianople a friend of mine passing through Sophia asked for some
CAFE TURC at the end of his lunch.

" Monsieur veut dire Cafe balkanique," the patriotic waiter
corrected him austerely.

I will not say that I had not observed something of that
instructive aspect of the war of the Balkans both in its first and
in its second phase. But those with whom I touched upon that
vision were pleased to see in it the evidence of my alarmist
cynicism. As to alarm, I pointed out that fear is natural to man,
and even salutary. It has done as much as courage for the
preservation of races and institutions. But from a charge of
cynicism I have always shrunk instinctively. It is like a charge
of being blind in one eye, a moral disablement, a sort of
disgraceful calamity that must he carried off with a jaunty
bearing--a sort of thing I am not capable of. Rather than be
thought a mere jaunty cripple I allowed myself to be blinded by the
gross obviousness of the usual arguments. It was pointed out to me
that these Eastern nations were not far removed from a savage
state. Their economics were yet at the stage of scratching the
earth and feeding the pigs. The highly-developed material
civilisation of Europe could not allow itself to be disturbed by a
war. The industry and the finance could not allow themselves to be
disorganised by the ambitions of an idle class, or even the
aspirations, whatever they might be, of the masses.

Very plausible all this sounded. War does not pay. There had been
a book written on that theme--an attempt to put pacificism on a
material basis. Nothing more solid in the way of argument could
have been advanced on this trading and manufacturing globe. War
was "bad business!" This was final.

But, truth to say, on this July day I reflected but little on the
condition of the civilised world. Whatever sinister passions were
heaving under its splendid and complex surface, I was too agitated
by a simple and innocent desire of my own, to notice the signs or
interpret them correctly. The most innocent of passions will take
the edge off one's judgment. The desire which possessed me was
simply the desire to travel. And that being so it would have taken
something very plain in the way of symptoms to shake my simple
trust in the stability of things on the Continent. My sentiment
and not my reason was engaged there. My eyes were turned to the
past, not to the future; the past that one cannot suspect and
mistrust, the shadowy and unquestionable moral possession the
darkest struggles of which wear a halo of glory and peace.

In the preceding month of May we had received an invitation to
spend some weeks in Poland in a country house in the neighbourhood
of Cracow, but within the Russian frontier. The enterprise at
first seemed to me considerable. Since leaving the sea, to which I
have been faithful for so many years, I have discovered that there
is in my composition very little stuff from which travellers are
made. I confess that my first impulse about a projected journey is
to leave it alone. But the invitation received at first with a
sort of dismay ended by rousing the dormant energy of my feelings.
Cracow is the town where I spent with my father the last eighteen
months of his life. It was in that old royal and academical city
that I ceased to be a child, became a boy, had known the
friendships, the admirations, the thoughts and the indignations of
that age. It was within those historical walls that I began to
understand things, form affections, lay up a store of memories and
a fund of sensations with which I was to break violently by
throwing myself into an unrelated existence. It was like the
experience of another world. The wings of time made a great dusk
over all this, and I feared at first that if I ventured bodily in
there I would discover that I who have had to do with a good many
imaginary lives have been embracing mere shadows in my youth. I
feared. But fear in itself may become a fascination. Men have
gone, alone and trembling, into graveyards at midnight--just to see
what would happen. And this adventure was to be pursued in
sunshine. Neither would it be pursued alone. The invitation was
extended to us all. This journey would have something of a
migratory character, the invasion of a tribe. My present, all that
gave solidity and value to it, at any rate, would stand by me in
this test of the reality of my past. I was pleased with the idea
of showing my companions what Polish country life was like; to
visit the town where I was at school before the boys by my side
should grow too old, and gaining an individual past of their own,
should lose their unsophisticated interest in mine. It is only in
the short instants of early youth that we have the faculty of
coming out of ourselves to see dimly the visions and share the
emotions of another soul. For youth all is reality in this world,
and with justice, since it apprehends so vividly its images behind
which a longer life makes one doubt whether there is any substance.
I trusted to the fresh receptivity of these young beings in whom,
unless Heredity is an empty word, there should have been a fibre
which would answer to the sight, to the atmosphere, to the memories
of that corner of the earth where my own boyhood had received its
earliest independent impressions.

The first days of the third week in July, while the telegraph wires
hummed with the words of enormous import which were to fill blue
books, yellow books, white books, and to arouse the wonder of
mankind, passed for us in light-hearted preparations for the
journey. What was it but just a rush through Germany, to get
across as quickly as possible?

Germany is the part of the earth's solid surface of which I know
the least. In all my life I had been across it only twice. I may
well say of it VIDI TANTUM; and the very little I saw was through
the window of a railway carriage at express speed. Those journeys
of mine had been more like pilgrimages when one hurries on towards
the goal for the satisfaction of a deeper need than curiosity. In
this last instance, too, I was so incurious that I would have liked
to have fallen asleep on the shores of England and opened my eyes,
if it were possible, only on the other side of the Silesian
frontier. Yet, in truth, as many others have done, I had "sensed
it"--that promised land of steel, of chemical dyes, of method, of
efficiency; that race planted in the middle of Europe, assuming in
grotesque vanity the attitude of Europeans amongst effete Asiatics
or barbarous niggers; and, with a consciousness of superiority
freeing their hands from all moral bonds, anxious to take up, if I
may express myself so, the "perfect man's burden." Meantime, in a
clearing of the Teutonic forest, their sages were rearing a Tree of
Cynical Wisdom, a sort of Upas tree, whose shade may be seen now
lying over the prostrate body of Belgium. It must be said that
they laboured openly enough, watering it with the most authentic
sources of all madness, and watching with their be-spectacled eyes
the slow ripening of the glorious blood-red fruit. The sincerest
words of peace, words of menace, and I verily believe words of
abasement, even if there had been a voice vile enough to utter
them, would have been wasted on their ecstasy. For when the fruit
ripens on a branch it must fall. There is nothing on earth that
can prevent it.


For reasons which at first seemed to me somewhat obscure, that one
of my companions whose wishes are law decided that our travels
should begin in an unusual way by the crossing of the North Sea.
We should proceed from Harwich to Hamburg. Besides being thirty-
six times longer than the Dover-Calais passage this rather unusual
route had an air of adventure in better keeping with the romantic
feeling of this Polish journey which for so many years had been
before us in a state of a project full of colour and promise, but
always retreating, elusive like an enticing mirage.

And, after all, it had turned out to be no mirage. No wonder they
were excited. It's no mean experience to lay your hands on a
mirage. The day of departure had come, the very hour had struck.
The luggage was coming downstairs. It was most convincing. Poland
then, if erased from the map, yet existed in reality; it was not a
mere PAYS DU REVE, where you can travel only in imagination. For
no man, they argued, not even father, an habitual pursuer of
dreams, would push the love of the novelist's art of make-believe
to the point of burdening himself with real trunks for a voyage AU

As we left the door of our house, nestling in, perhaps, the most
peaceful nook in Kent, the sky, after weeks of perfectly brazen
serenity, veiled its blue depths and started to weep fine tears for
the refreshment of the parched fields. A pearly blur settled over
them, and a light sifted of all glare, of everything unkindly and
searching that dwells in the splendour of unveiled skies. All
unconscious of going towards the very scenes of war, I carried off
in my eye, this tiny fragment of Great Britain; a few fields, a
wooded rise; a clump of trees or two, with a short stretch of road,
and here and there a gleam of red wall and tiled roof above the
darkening hedges wrapped up in soft mist and peace. And I felt
that all this had a very strong hold on me as the embodiment of a
beneficent and gentle spirit; that it was dear to me not as an
inheritance, but as an acquisition, as a conquest in the sense in
which a woman is conquered--by love, which is a sort of surrender.

These were strange, as if disproportionate thoughts to the matter
in hand, which was the simplest sort of a Continental holiday. And
I am certain that my companions, near as they are to me, felt no
other trouble but the suppressed excitement of pleasurable
anticipation. The forms and the spirit of the land before their
eyes were their inheritance, not their conquest--which is a thing
precarious, and, therefore, the most precious, possessing you if
only by the fear of unworthiness rather than possessed by you.
Moreover, as we sat together in the same railway carriage, they
were looking forward to a voyage in space, whereas I felt more and
more plainly, that what I had started on was a journey in time,
into the past; a fearful enough prospect for the most consistent,
but to him who had not known how to preserve against his impulses
the order and continuity of his life--so that at times it presented
itself to his conscience as a series of betrayals--still more

I down here these thoughts so exclusively personal, to explain why
there was no room in my consciousness for the apprehension of a
European war. I don't mean to say that I ignored the possibility;
I simply did not think of it. And it made no difference; for if I
had thought of it, it could only have been in the lame and
inconclusive way of the common uninitiated mortals; and I am sure
that nothing short of intellectual certitude--obviously
unattainable by the man in the street--could have stayed me on that
journey which now that I had started on it seemed an irrevocable
thing, a necessity of my self-respect.

London, the London before the war, flaunting its enormous glare, as
of a monstrous conflagration up into the black sky--with its best
Venice-like aspect of rainy evenings, the wet asphalted streets
lying with the sheen of sleeping water in winding canals, and the
great houses of the city towering all dark, like empty palaces,
above the reflected lights of the glistening roadway.

Everything in the subdued incomplete night-life around the Mansion
House went on normally with its fascinating air of a dead
commercial city of sombre walls through which the inextinguishable
activity of its millions streamed East and West in a brilliant flow
of lighted vehicles.

In Liverpool Street, as usual too, through the double gates, a
continuous line of taxi-cabs glided down the inclined approach and
up again, like an endless chain of dredger-buckets, pouring in the
passengers, and dipping them out of the great railway station under
the inexorable pallid face of the clock telling off the diminishing
minutes of peace. It was the hour of the boat-trains to Holland,
to Hamburg, and there seemed to be no lack of people, fearless,
reckless, or ignorant, who wanted to go to these places. The
station was normally crowded, and if there was a great flutter of
evening papers in the multitude of hands there were no signs of
extraordinary emotion on that multitude of faces. There was
nothing in them to distract me from the thought that it was
singularly appropriate that I should start from this station on the
retraced way of my existence. For this was the station at which,
thirty-seven years before, I arrived on my first visit to London.
Not the same building, but the same spot. At nineteen years of
age, after a period of probation and training I had imposed upon
myself as ordinary seaman on board a North Sea coaster, I had come
up from Lowestoft--my first long railway journey in England--to
"sign on" for an Antipodean voyage in a deep-water ship. Straight
from a railway carriage I had walked into the great city with
something of the feeling of a traveller penetrating into a vast and
unexplored wilderness. No explorer could have been more lonely. I
did not know a single soul of all these millions that all around me
peopled the mysterious distances of the streets. I cannot say I
was free from a little youthful awe, but at that age one's feelings
are simple. I was elated. I was pursuing a clear aim, I was
carrying out a deliberate plan of making out of myself, in the
first place, a seaman worthy of the service, good enough to work by
the side of the men with whom I was to live; and in the second
place, I had to justify my existence to myself, to redeem a tacit
moral pledge. Both these aims were to be attained by the same
effort. How simple seemed the problem of life then, on that hazy
day of early September in the year 1878, when I entered London for
the first time.

From that point of view--Youth and a straight-forward scheme of
conduct--it was certainly a year of grace. All the help I had to
get in touch with the world I was invading was a piece of paper not
much bigger than the palm of my hand--in which I held it--torn out
of a larger plan of London for the greater facility of reference.
It had been the object of careful study for some days past. The
fact that I could take a conveyance at the station never occurred
to my mind, no, not even when I got out into the street, and stood,
taking my anxious bearings, in the midst, so to speak, of twenty
thousand hansoms. A strange absence of mind or unconscious
conviction that one cannot approach an important moment of one's
life by means of a hired carriage? Yes, it would have been a
preposterous proceeding. And indeed I was to make an Australian
voyage and encircle the globe before ever entering a London hansom.

Another document, a cutting from a newspaper, containing the
address of an obscure shipping agent, was in my pocket. And I
needed not to take it out. That address was as if graven deep in
my brain. I muttered its words to myself as I walked on,
navigating the sea of London by the chart concealed in the palm of
my hand; for I had vowed to myself not to inquire my way from
anyone. Youth is the time of rash pledges. Had I taken a wrong
turning I would have been lost; and if faithful to my pledge I
might have remained lost for days, for weeks, have left perhaps my
bones to be discovered bleaching in some blind alley of the
Whitechapel district, as it had happened to lonely travellers lost
in the bush. But I walked on to my destination without hesitation
or mistake, showing there, for the first time, some of that faculty
to absorb and make my own the imaged topography of a chart, which
in later years was to help me in regions of intricate navigation to
keep the ships entrusted to me off the ground. The place I was
bound to was not easy to find. It was one of those courts hidden
away from the charted and navigable streets, lost among the thick
growth of houses like a dark pool in the depths of a forest,
approached by an inconspicuous archway as if by secret path; a
Dickensian nook of London, that wonder city, the growth of which
bears no sign of intelligent design, but many traces of freakishly
sombre phantasy the Great Master knew so well how to bring out by
the magic of his understanding love. And the office I entered was
Dickensian too. The dust of the Waterloo year lay on the panes and
frames of its windows; early Georgian grime clung to its sombre

It was one o'clock in the afternoon, but the day was gloomy. By
the light of a single gas-jet depending from the smoked ceiling I
saw an elderly man, in a long coat of black broadcloth. He had a
grey beard, a big nose, thick lips, and heavy shoulders. His curly
white hair and the general character of his head recalled vaguely a
burly apostle in the BAROCCO style of Italian art. Standing up at
a tall, shabby, slanting desk, his silver-rimmed spectacles pushed
up high on his forehead, he was eating a mutton-chop, which had
been just brought to him from some Dickensian eating-house round
the corner.

Without ceasing to eat he turned to me his florid, BAROCCO
apostle's face with an expression of inquiry.

I produced elaborately a series of vocal sounds which must have
borne sufficient resemblance to the phonetics of English speech,
for his face broke into a smile of comprehension almost at once.--
"Oh, it's you who wrote a letter to me the other day from Lowestoft
about getting a ship."

I had written to him from Lowestoft. I can't remember a single
word of that letter now. It was my very first composition in the
English language. And he had understood it, evidently, for he
spoke to the point at once, explaining that his business, mainly,
was to find good ships for young gentlemen who wanted to go to sea
as premium apprentices with a view of being trained for officers.
But he gathered that this was not my object. I did not desire to
be apprenticed. Was that the case?

It was. He was good enough to say then, "Of course I see that you
are a gentleman. But your wish is to get a berth before the mast
as an Able Seaman if possible. Is that it?"

It was certainly my wish; but he stated doubtfully that he feared
he could not help me much in this. There was an Act of Parliament
which made it penal to procure ships for sailors. "An Act-of -
Parliament. A law," he took pains to impress it again and again on
my foreign understanding, while I looked at him in consternation.

I had not been half an hour in London before I had run my head
against an Act of Parliament! What a hopeless adventure! However,
the BAROCCO apostle was a resourceful person in his way, and we
managed to get round the hard letter of it without damage to its
fine spirit. Yet, strictly speaking, it was not the conduct of a
good citizen; and in retrospect there is an unfilial flavour about
that early sin of mine. For this Act of Parliament, the Merchant
Shipping Act of the Victorian era, had been in a manner of speaking
a father and mother to me. For many years it had regulated and
disciplined my life, prescribed my food and the amount of my
breathing space, had looked after my health and tried as much as
possible to secure my personal safety in a risky calling. It isn't
such a bad thing to lead a life of hard toil and plain duty within
the four corners of an honest Act of Parliament. And I am glad to
say that its seventies have never been applied to me.

In the year 1878, the year of "Peace with Honour," I had walked as
lone as any human being in the streets of London, out of Liverpool
Street Station, to surrender myself to its care. And now, in the
year of the war waged for honour and conscience more than for any
other cause, I was there again, no longer alone, but a man of
infinitely dear and close ties grown since that time, of work done,
of words written, of friendships secured. It was like the closing
of a thirty-six-year cycle.

All unaware of the War Angel already awaiting, with the trumpet at
his lips, the stroke of the fatal hour, I sat there, thinking that
this life of ours is neither long nor short, but that it can appear
very wonderful, entertaining, and pathetic, with symbolic images
and bizarre associations crowded into one half-hour of
retrospective musing.

I felt, too, that this journey, so suddenly entered upon, was bound
to take me away from daily life's actualities at every step. I
felt it more than ever when presently we steamed out into the North
Sea, on a dark night fitful with gusts of wind, and I lingered on
deck, alone of all the tale of the ship's passengers. That sea was
to me something unforgettable, something much more than a name. It
had been for some time the school-room of my trade. On it, I may
safely say, I had learned, too, my first words of English. A wild
and stormy abode, sometimes, was that confined, shallow-water
academy of seamanship from which I launched myself on the wide
oceans. My teachers had been the sailors of the Norfolk shore;
coast men, with steady eyes, mighty limbs, and gentle voice; men of
very few words, which at least were never bare of meaning. Honest,
strong, steady men, sobered by domestic ties, one and all, as far
as I can remember.

That is what years ago the North Sea I could hear growling in the
dark all round the ship had been for me. And I fancied that I must
have been carrying its voice in my ear ever since, for nothing
could be more familiar than those short, angry sounds I was
listening to with a smile of affectionate recognition.

I could not guess that before many days my old schoolroom would be
desecrated by violence, littered with wrecks, with death walking
its waves, hiding under its waters. Perhaps while I am writing
these words the children, or maybe the grandchildren, of my pacific
teachers are out in trawlers, under the Naval flag, dredging for
German submarine mines.


I have said that the North Sea was my finishing school of
seamanship before I launched myself on the wider oceans. Confined
as it is in comparison with the vast stage of this water-girt
globe, I did not know it in all its parts. My class-room was the
region of the English East Coast which, in the year of Peace with
Honour, had long forgotten the war episodes belonging to its
maritime history. It was a peaceful coast, agricultural,
industrial, the home of fishermen. At night the lights of its many
towns played on the clouds, or in clear weather lay still, here and
there, in brilliant pools above the ink-black outline of the land.
On many a night I have hauled at the braces under the shadow of
that coast, envying, as sailors will, the people on shore sleeping
quietly in their beds within sound of the sea. I imagine that not
one head on those envied pillows was made uneasy by the slightest
premonition of the realities of naval war the short lifetime of one
generation was to bring so close to their homes.

Though far away from that region of kindly memories and traversing
a part of the North Sea much less known to me, I was deeply
conscious of the familiarity of my surroundings. It was a cloudy,
nasty day: and the aspects of Nature don't change, unless in the
course of thousands of years--or, perhaps, centuries. The
Phoenicians, its first discoverers, the Romans, the first imperial
rulers of that sea, had experienced days like this, so different in
the wintry quality of the light, even on a July afternoon, from
anything they had ever known in their native Mediterranean. For
myself, a very late comer into that sea, and its former pupil, I
accorded amused recognition to the characteristic aspect so well
remembered from my days of training. The same old thing. A grey-
green expanse of smudgy waters grinning angrily at one with white
foam-ridges, and over all a cheerless, unglowing canopy, apparently
made of wet blotting-paper. From time to time a flurry of fine
rain blew along like a puff of smoke across the dots of distant
fishing boats, very few, very scattered, and tossing restlessly on
an ever dissolving, ever re-forming sky-line.

Those flurries, and the steady rolling of the ship, accounted for
the emptiness of the decks, favouring my reminiscent mood. It
might have been a day of five and thirty years ago, when there were
on this and every other sea more sails and less smoke-stacks to be
seen. Yet, thanks to the unchangeable sea I could have given
myself up to the illusion of a revised past, had it not been for
the periodical transit across my gaze of a German passenger. He
was marching round and round the boat deck with characteristic
determination. Two sturdy boys gambolled round him in his progress
like two disorderly satellites round their parent planet. He was
bringing them home, from their school in England, for their
holiday. What could have induced such a sound Teuton to entrust
his offspring to the unhealthy influences of that effete, corrupt,
rotten and criminal country I cannot imagine. It could hardly have
been from motives of economy. I did not speak to him. He trod the
deck of that decadent British ship with a scornful foot while his
breast (and to a large extent his stomach, too) appeared expanded
by the consciousness of a superior destiny. Later I could observe
the same truculent bearing, touched with the racial grotesqueness,
in the men of the LANDWEHR corps, that passed through Cracow to
reinforce the Austrian army in Eastern Galicia. Indeed, the
haughty passenger might very well have been, most probably was, an
officer of the LANDWEHR; and perhaps those two fine active boys are
orphans by now. Thus things acquire significance by the lapse of
time. A citizen, a father, a warrior, a mote in the dust-cloud of
six million fighting particles, an unconsidered trifle for the jaws
of war, his humanity was not consciously impressed on my mind at
the time. Mainly, for me, he was a sharp tapping of heels round
the corner of the deck-house, a white yachting cap and a green
overcoat getting periodically between my eyes and the shifting
cloud-horizon of the ashy-grey North Sea. He was but a shadowy
intrusion and a disregarded one, for, far away there to the West,
in the direction of the Dogger Bank, where fishermen go seeking
their daily bread and sometimes find their graves, I could behold
an experience of my own in the winter of '81, not of war, truly,
but of a fairly lively contest with the elements which were very
angry indeed.

There had been a troublesome week of it, including one hateful
night--or a night of hate (it isn't for nothing that the North Sea
is also called the German Ocean)--when all the fury stored in its
heart seemed concentrated on one ship which could do no better than
float on her side in an unnatural, disagreeable, precarious, and
altogether intolerable manner. There were on board, besides
myself, seventeen men all good and true, including a round enormous
Dutchman who, in those hours between sunset and sunrise, managed to
lose his blown-out appearance somehow, became as it were deflated,
and thereafter for a good long time moved in our midst wrinkled and
slack all over like a half-collapsed balloon. The whimpering of
our deck-boy, a skinny, impressionable little scarecrow out of a
training-ship, for whom, because of the tender immaturity of his
nerves, this display of German Ocean frightfulness was too much
(before the year was out he developed into a sufficiently cheeky
young ruffian), his desolate whimpering, I say, heard between the
gusts of that black, savage night, was much more present to my mind
and indeed to my senses than the green overcoat and the white cap
of the German passenger circling the deck indefatigably, attended
by his two gyrating children.

"That's a very nice gentleman." This information, together with
the fact that he was a widower and a regular passenger twice a year
by the ship, was communicated to me suddenly by our captain. At
intervals through the day he would pop out of the chart-room and
offer me short snatches of conversation. He owned a simple soul
and a not very entertaining mind, and he was without malice and, I
believe, quite unconsciously, a warm Germanophil. And no wonder!
As he told me himself, he had been fifteen years on that run, and
spent almost as much of his life in Hamburg as in Harwich.

"Wonderful people they are," he repeated from time to time, without
entering into particulars, but with many nods of sagacious
obstinacy. What he knew of them, I suppose, were a few commercial
travellers and small merchants, most likely. But I had observed
long before that German genius has a hypnotising power over half-
baked souls and half-lighted minds. There is an immense force of
suggestion in highly organised mediocrity. Had it not hypnotised
half Europe? My man was very much under the spell of German
excellence. On the other hand, his contempt for France was equally
general and unbounded. I tried to advance some arguments against
this position, but I only succeeded in making him hostile. "I
believe you are a Frenchman yourself," he snarled at last, giving
me an intensely suspicious look; and forthwith broke off
communications with a man of such unsound sympathies.

Hour by hour the blotting-paper sky and the great flat greenish
smudge of the sea had been taking on a darker tone, without any
change in their colouring and texture. Evening was coming on over
the North Sea. Black uninteresting hummocks of land appeared,
dotting the duskiness of water and clouds in the Eastern board:
tops of islands fringing the German shore. While I was looking at
their antics amongst the waves--and for all their solidity they
were very elusive things in the failing light--another passenger
came out on deck. This one wore a dark overcoat and a grey cap.
The yellow leather strap of his binocular case crossed his chest.
His elderly red cheeks nourished but a very thin crop of short
white hairs, and the end of his nose was so perfectly round that it
determined the whole character of his physiognomy. Indeed nothing
else in it had the slightest chance to assert itself. His
disposition, unlike the widower's, appeared to be mild and humane.
He offered me the loan of his glasses. He had a wife and some
small children concealed in the depths of the ship, and he thought
they were very well where they were. His eldest son was about the
decks somewhere.

"We are Americans," he remarked weightily, but in a rather peculiar
tone. He spoke English with the accent of our captain's "wonderful
people," and proceeded to give me the history of the family's
crossing the Atlantic in a White Star liner. They remained in
England just the time necessary for a railway journey from
Liverpool to Harwich. His people (those in the depths of the ship)
were naturally a little tired.

At that moment a young man of about twenty, his son, rushed up to
us from the fore-deck in a state of intense elation. "Hurrah," he
cried under his breath. "The first German light! Hurrah!"

And those two American citizens shook hands on it with the greatest
fervour, while I turned away and received full in the eyes the
brilliant wink of the Borkum lighthouse squatting low down in the
darkness. The shade of the night had settled on the North Sea.

I do not think I have ever seen before a night so full of lights.
The great change of sea life since my time was brought home to me.
I had been conscious all day of an interminable procession of
steamers. They went on and on as if in chase of each other, the
Baltic trade, the trade of Scandinavia, of Denmark, of Germany,
pitching heavily into a head sea and bound for the gateway of Dover
Straits. Singly, and in small companies of two and three, they
emerged from the dull, colourless, sunless distances ahead as if
the supply of rather roughly finished mechanical toys were
inexhaustible in some mysterious cheap store away there, below the
grey curve of the earth. Cargo steam vessels have reached by this
time a height of utilitarian ugliness which, when one reflects that
it is the product of human ingenuity, strikes hopeless awe into
one. These dismal creations look still uglier at sea than in port,
and with an added touch of the ridiculous. Their rolling waddle
when seen at a certain angle, their abrupt clockwork nodding in a
sea-way, so unlike the soaring lift and swing of a craft under
sail, have in them something caricatural, a suggestion of a low
parody directed at noble predecessors by an improved generation of
dull, mechanical toilers, conceited and without grace.

When they switched on (each of these unlovely cargo tanks carried
tame lightning within its slab-sided body), when they switched on
their lamps they spangled the night with the cheap, electric, shop-
glitter, here, there, and everywhere, as of some High Street,
broken up and washed out to sea. Later, Heligoland cut into the
overhead darkness with its powerful beam, infinitely prolonged out
of unfathomable night under the clouds.

I remained on deck until we stopped and a steam pilot-boat, so
overlighted amidships that one could not make out her complete
shape, glided across our bows and sent a pilot on board. I fear
that the oar, as a working implement, will become presently as
obsolete as the sail. The pilot boarded us in a motor-dinghy.
More and more is mankind reducing its physical activities to
pulling levers and twirling little wheels. Progress! Yet the
older methods of meeting natural forces demanded intelligence too;
an equally fine readiness of wits. And readiness of wits working
in combination with the strength of muscles made a more complete

It was really a surprisingly small dinghy and it ran to and fro
like a water-insect fussing noisily down there with immense self-
importance. Within hail of us the hull of the Elbe lightship
floated all dark and silent under its enormous round, service
lantern; a faithful black shadow watching the broad estuary full of

Such was my first view of the Elbe approached under the wings of
peace ready for flight away from the luckless shores of Europe.
Our visual impressions remain with us so persistently that I find
it extremely difficult to hold fast to the rational belief that now
everything is dark over there, that the Elbe lightship has been
towed away from its post of duty, the triumphant beam of Heligoland
extinguished, and the pilot-boat laid up, or turned to warlike uses
for lack of its proper work to do. And obviously it must be so.

Any trickle of oversea trade that passes yet that way must be
creeping along cautiously with the unlighted, war-blighted black
coast close on one hand, and sudden death on the other. For all
the space we steamed through that Sunday evening must now be one
great minefield, sown thickly with the seeds of hate; while
submarines steal out to sea, over the very spot perhaps where the
insect-dinghy put a pilot on board of us with so much fussy
importance. Mines; Submarines. The last word in sea-warfare!
Progress--impressively disclosed by this war.

There have been other wars! Wars not inferior in the greatness of
the stake and in the fierce animosity of feelings. During that one
which was finished a hundred years ago it happened that while the
English Fleet was keeping watch on Brest, an American, perhaps
Fulton himself, offered to the Maritime Prefect of the port and to
the French Admiral, an invention which would sink all the
unsuspecting English ships one after another--or, at any rate most
of them. The offer was not even taken into consideration; and the
Prefect ends his report to the Minister in Paris with a fine phrase
of indignation: "It is not the sort of death one would deal to
brave men."

And behold, before history had time to hatch another war of the
like proportions in the intensity of aroused passions and the
greatness of issues, the dead flavour of archaism descended on the
manly sentiment of those self-denying words. Mankind has been
demoralised since by its own mastery of mechanical appliances. Its
spirit is apparently so weak now, and its flesh has grown so
strong, that it will face any deadly horror of destruction and
cannot resist the temptation to use any stealthy, murderous
contrivance. It has become the intoxicated slave of its own
detestable ingenuity. It is true, too, that since the Napoleonic
time another sort of war-doctrine has been inculcated in a nation,
and held out to the world.


On this journey of ours, which for me was essentially not a
progress, but a retracing of footsteps on the road of life, I had
no beacons to look for in Germany. I had never lingered in that
land which, on the whole, is so singularly barren of memorable
manifestations of generous sympathies and magnanimous impulses. An
ineradicable, invincible, provincialism of envy and vanity clings
to the forms of its thought like a frowsy garment. Even while yet
very young I turned my eyes away from it instinctively as from a
threatening phantom. I believe that children and dogs have, in
their innocence, a special power of perception as far as spectral
apparitions and coming misfortunes are concerned.

I let myself be carried through Germany as if it were pure space,
without sights, without sounds. No whispers of the war reached my
voluntary abstraction. And perhaps not so very voluntary after
all! Each of us is a fascinating spectacle to himself, and I had
to watch my own personality returning from another world, as it
were, to revisit the glimpses of old moons. Considering the
condition of humanity, I am, perhaps, not so much to blame for
giving myself up to that occupation. We prize the sensation of our
continuity, and we can only capture it in that way. By watching.

We arrived in Cracow late at night. After a scrambly supper, I
said to my eldest boy, "I can't go to bed. I am going out for a
look round. Coming?"

He was ready enough. For him, all this was part of the interesting
adventure of the whole journey. We stepped out of the portal of
the hotel into an empty street, very silent and bright with
moonlight. I was, indeed, revisiting the glimpses of the moon. I
felt so much like a ghost that the discovery that I could remember
such material things as the right turn to take and the general
direction of the street gave me a moment of wistful surprise.

The street, straight and narrow, ran into the great Market Square
of the town, the centre of its affairs and of the lighter side of
its life. We could see at the far end of the street a promising
widening of space. At the corner an unassuming (but armed)
policeman, wearing ceremoniously at midnight a pair of white gloves
which made his big hands extremely noticeable, turned his head to
look at the grizzled foreigner holding forth in a strange tongue to
a youth on whose arm he leaned.

The Square, immense in its solitude, was full to the brim of
moonlight. The garland of lights at the foot of the houses seemed
to burn at the bottom of a bluish pool. I noticed with infinite
satisfaction that the unnecessary trees the Municipality insisted
upon sticking between the stones had been steadily refusing to
grow. They were not a bit bigger than the poor victims I could
remember. Also, the paving operations seemed to be exactly at the
same point at which I left them forty years before. There were the
dull, torn-up patches on that bright expanse, the piles of paving
material looking ominously black, like heads of rocks on a silvery
sea. Who was it that said that Time works wonders? What an
exploded superstition! As far as these trees and these paving
stones were concerned, it had worked nothing. The suspicion of the
unchangeableness of things already vaguely suggested to my senses
by our rapid drive from the railway station was agreeably
strengthened within me.

"We are now on the line A.B.," I said to my companion, importantly.

It was the name bestowed in my time on one of the sides of the
Square by the senior students of that town of classical learning
and historical relics. The common citizens knew nothing of it,
and, even if they had, would not have dreamed of taking it
seriously. He who used it was of the initiated, belonged to the
Schools. We youngsters regarded that name as a fine jest, the
invention of a most excellent fancy. Even as I uttered it to my
boy I experienced again that sense of my privileged initiation.
And then, happening to look up at the wall, I saw in the light of
the corner lamp, a white, cast-iron tablet fixed thereon, bearing
an inscription in raised black letters, thus: "Line A.B."
Heavens! The name had been adopted officially! Any town urchin,
any guttersnipe, any herb-selling woman of the market-place, any
wandering Boeotian, was free to talk of the line A.B., to walk on
the line A.B., to appoint to meet his friends on the line A.B. It
had become a mere name in a directory. I was stunned by the
extreme mutability of things. Time could work wonders, and no
mistake. A Municipality had stolen an invention of excellent
fancy, and a fine jest had turned into a horrid piece of cast-iron.

I proposed that we should walk to the other end of the line, using
the profaned name, not only without gusto, but with positive
distaste. And this, too, was one of the wonders of Time, for a
bare minute had worked that change. There was at the end of the
line a certain street I wanted to look at, I explained to my

To our right the unequal massive towers of St. Mary's Church soared
aloft into the ethereal radiance of the air, very black on their
shaded sides, glowing with a soft phosphorescent sheen on the
others. In the distance the Florian Gate, thick and squat under
its pointed roof, barred the street with the square shoulders of
the old city wall. In the narrow, brilliantly pale vista of bluish
flagstones and silvery fronts of houses, its black archway stood
out small and very distinct.

There was not a soul in sight, and not even the echo of a footstep
for our ears. Into this coldly illuminated and dumb emptiness
there issued out of my aroused memory, a small boy of eleven,
wending his way, not very fast, to a preparatory school for day-
pupils on the second floor of the third house down from the Florian
Gate. It was in the winter months of 1868. At eight o'clock of
every morning that God made, sleet or shine, I walked up Florian
Street. But of that, my first school, I remember very little. I
believe that one of my co-sufferers there has become a much
appreciated editor of historical documents. But I didn't suffer
much from the various imperfections of my first school. I was
rather indifferent to school troubles. I had a private gnawing
worm of my own. This was the time of my father's last illness.
Every evening at seven, turning my back on the Florian Gate, I
walked all the way to a big old house in a quiet narrow street a
good distance beyond the Great Square. There, in a large drawing-
room, panelled and bare, with heavy cornices and a lofty ceiling,
in a little oasis of light made by two candles in a desert of dusk,
I sat at a little table to worry and ink myself all over till the
task of my preparation was done. The table of my toil faced a tall
white door, which was kept closed; now and then it would come ajar
and a nun in a white coif would squeeze herself through the crack,
glide across the room, and disappear. There were two of these
noiseless nursing nuns. Their voices were seldom heard. For,
indeed, what could they have had to say? When they did speak to me
it was with their lips hardly moving, in a claustral, clear
whisper. Our domestic matters were ordered by the elderly
housekeeper of our neighbour on the second floor, a Canon of the
Cathedral, lent for the emergency. She, too, spoke but seldom.
She wore a black dress with a cross hanging by a chain on her ample
bosom. And though when she spoke she moved her lips more than the
nuns, she never let her voice rise above a peacefully murmuring
note. The air around me was all piety, resignation, and silence.

I don't know what would have become of me if I had not been a
reading boy. My prep. finished I would have had nothing to do but
sit and watch the awful stillness of the sick room flow out through
the closed door and coldly enfold my scared heart. I suppose that
in a futile childish way I would have gone crazy. But I was a
reading boy. There were many books about, lying on consoles, on
tables, and even on the floor, for we had not had time to settle
down. I read! What did I not read! Sometimes the elder nun,
gliding up and casting a mistrustful look on the open pages, would
lay her hand lightly on my head and suggest in a doubtful whisper,
"Perhaps it is not very good for you to read these books." I would
raise my eyes to her face mutely, and with a vague gesture of
giving it up she would glide away.

Later in the evening, but not always, I would be permitted to tip-
toe into the sick room to say good-night to the figure prone on the
bed, which often could not acknowledge my presence but by a slow
movement of the eyes, put my lips dutifully to the nerveless hand
lying on the coverlet, and tip-toe out again. Then I would go to
bed, in a room at the end of the corridor, and often, not always,
cry myself into a good sound sleep.

I looked forward to what was coming with an incredulous terror. I
turned my eyes from it sometimes with success, and yet all the time
I had an awful sensation of the inevitable. I had also moments of
revolt which stripped off me some of my simple trust in the
government of the universe. But when the inevitable entered the
sick room and the white door was thrown wide open, I don't think I
found a single tear to shed. I have a suspicion that the Canon's
housekeeper looked on me as the most callous little wretch on

The day of the funeral came in due course and all the generous
"Youth of the Schools," the grave Senate of the University, the
delegations of the Trade-guilds, might have obtained (if they
cared) DE VISU evidence of the callousness of the little wretch.
There was nothing in my aching head but a few words, some such
stupid sentences as, "It's done," or, "It's accomplished" (in
Polish it is much shorter), or something of the sort, repeating
itself endlessly. The long procession moved out of the narrow
street, down a long street, past the Gothic front of St. Mary's
under its unequal towers, towards the Florian Gate.

In the moonlight-flooded silence of the old town of glorious tombs
and tragic memories, I could see again the small boy of that day
following a hearse; a space kept clear in which I walked alone,
conscious of an enormous following, the clumsy swaying of the tall
black machine, the chanting of the surpliced clergy at the head,
the flames of tapers passing under the low archway of the gate, the
rows of bared heads on the pavements with fixed, serious eyes.
Half the population had turned out on that fine May afternoon.
They had not come to honour a great achievement, or even some
splendid failure. The dead and they were victims alike of an
unrelenting destiny which cut them off from every path of merit and
glory. They had come only to render homage to the ardent fidelity
of the man whose life had been a fearless confession in word and
deed of a creed which the simplest heart in that crowd could feel
and understand.

It seemed to me that if I remained longer there in that narrow
street I should become the helpless prey of the Shadows I had
called up. They were crowding upon me, enigmatic and insistent in
their clinging air of the grave that tasted of dust and of the
bitter vanity of old hopes.

"Let's go back to the hotel, my boy," I said. "It's getting late."

It will be easily understood that I neither thought nor dreamt that
night of a possible war. For the next two days I went about
amongst my fellow men, who welcomed me with the utmost
consideration and friendliness, but unanimously derided my fears of
a war. They would not believe in it. It was impossible. On the
evening of the second day I was in the hotel's smoking room, an
irrationally private apartment, a sanctuary for a few choice minds
of the town, always pervaded by a dim religious light, and more
hushed than any club reading-room I have ever been in. Gathered
into a small knot, we were discussing the situation in subdued
tones suitable to the genius of the place.

A gentleman with a fine head of white hair suddenly pointed an
impatient finger in my direction and apostrophised me.

"What I want to know is whether, should there be war, England would
come in."

The time to draw a breath, and I spoke out for the Cabinet without

"Most assuredly. I should think all Europe knows that by this

He took hold of the lapel of my coat, and, giving it a slight jerk
for greater emphasis, said forcibly:

"Then, if England will, as you say, and all the world knows it,
there can be no war. Germany won't be so mad as that."

On the morrow by noon we read of the German ultimatum. The day
after came the declaration of war, and the Austrian mobilisation
order. We were fairly caught. All that remained for me to do was
to get my party out of the way of eventual shells. The best move
which occurred to me was to snatch them up instantly into the
mountains to a Polish health resort of great repute--which I did
(at the rate of one hundred miles in eleven hours) by the last
civilian train permitted to leave Cracow for the next three weeks.

And there we remained amongst the Poles from all parts of Poland,
not officially interned, but simply unable to obtain the permission
to travel by train, or road. It was a wonderful, a poignant two
months. This is not the time, and, perhaps, not the place, to
enlarge upon the tragic character of the situation; a whole people
seeing the culmination of its misfortunes in a final catastrophe,
unable to trust anyone, to appeal to anyone, to look for help from
any quarter; deprived of all hope and even of its last illusions,
and unable, in the trouble of minds and the unrest of consciences,
to take refuge in stoical acceptance. I have seen all this. And I
am glad I have not so many years left me to remember that appalling
feeling of inexorable fate, tangible, palpable, come after so many
cruel years, a figure of dread, murmuring with iron lips the final
words: Ruin--and Extinction.

But enough of this. For our little band there was the awful
anguish of incertitude as to the real nature of events in the West.
It is difficult to give an idea how ugly and dangerous things
looked to us over there. Belgium knocked down and trampled out of
existence, France giving in under repeated blows, a military
collapse like that of 1870, and England involved in that disastrous
alliance, her army sacrificed, her people in a panic! Polish
papers, of course, had no other but German sources of information.
Naturally, we did not believe all we read, but it was sometimes
excessively difficult to react with sufficient firmness.

We used to shut our door, and there, away from everybody, we sat
weighing the news, hunting up discrepancies, scenting lies, finding
reasons for hopefulness, and generally cheering each other up. But
it was a beastly time. People used to come to me with very serious
news and ask, "What do you think of it?" And my invariable answer
was: "Whatever has happened, or is going to happen, whoever wants
to make peace, you may be certain that England will not make it,
not for ten years, if necessary."'

But enough of this, too. Through the unremitting efforts of Polish
friends we obtained at last the permission to travel to Vienna.
Once there, the wing of the American Eagle was extended over our
uneasy heads. We cannot be sufficiently grateful to the American
Ambassador (who, all along, interested himself in our fate) for his
exertions on our behalf, his invaluable assistance and the real
friendliness of his reception in Vienna. Owing to Mr. Penfield's
action we obtained the permission to leave Austria. And it was a
near thing, for his Excellency has informed my American publishers
since that a week later orders were issued to have us detained till
the end of the war. However, we effected our hair's-breadth escape
into Italy; and, reaching Genoa, took passage in a Dutch mail
steamer, homeward-bound from Java with London as a port of call.

On that sea-route I might have picked up a memory at every mile if
the past had not been eclipsed by the tremendous actuality. We saw
the signs of it in the emptiness of the Mediterranean, the aspect
of Gibraltar, the misty glimpse in the Bay of Biscay of an outward-
bound convoy of transports, in the presence of British submarines
in the Channel. Innumerable drifters flying the Naval flag dotted
the narrow waters, and two Naval officers coming on board off the
South Foreland, piloted the ship through the Downs.

The Downs! There they were, thick with the memories of my sea-
life. But what were to me now the futilities of an individual
past? As our ship's head swung into the estuary of the Thames, a
deep, yet faint, concussion passed through the air, a shock rather
than a sound, which missing my ear found its way straight into my
heart. Turning instinctively to look at my boys, I happened to
meet my wife's eyes. She also had felt profoundly, coming from far
away across the grey distances of the sea, the faint boom of the
big guns at work on the coast of Flanders--shaping the future.


Four years ago, on the first day of August, in the town of Cracow,
Austrian Poland, nobody would believe that the war was coming. My
apprehensions were met by the words: "We have had these scares
before." This incredulity was so universal amongst people of
intelligence and information, that even I, who had accustomed
myself to look at the inevitable for years past, felt my conviction
shaken. At that time, it must be noted, the Austrian army was
already partly mobilised, and as we came through Austrian Silesia
we had noticed all the bridges being guarded by soldiers.

"Austria will back down," was the opinion of all the well-informed
men with whom I talked on the first of August. The session of the
University was ended and the students were either all gone or going
home to different parts of Poland, but the professors had not all
departed yet on their respective holidays, and amongst them the
tone of scepticism prevailed generally. Upon the whole there was
very little inclination to talk about the possibility of a war.
Nationally, the Poles felt that from their point of view there was
nothing to hope from it. "Whatever happens," said a very
distinguished man to me, "we may be certain that it's our skins
which will pay for it as usual." A well-known literary critic and
writer on economical subjects said to me: "War seems a material
impossibility, precisely because it would mean the complete ruin of
all material interests."

He was wrong, as we know; but those who said that Austria as usual
would back down were, as a matter of fact perfectly right. Austria
did back down. What these men did not foresee was the interference
of Germany. And one cannot blame them very well; for who could
guess that, when the balance stood even, the German sword would be
thrown into the scale with nothing in the open political situation
to justify that act, or rather that crime--if crime can ever be
justified? For, as the same intelligent man said to me: "As it
is, those people" (meaning Germans) "have very nearly the whole
world in their economic grip. Their prestige is even greater than
their actual strength. It can get for them practically everything
they want. Then why risk it?" And there was no apparent answer to
the question put in that way. I must also say that the Poles had
no illusions about the strength of Russia. Those illusions were
the monopoly of the Western world.

Next day the librarian of the University invited me to come and
have a look at the library which I had not seen since I was
fourteen years old. It was from him that I learned that the
greater part of my father's MSS. was preserved there. He confessed
that he had not looked them through thoroughly yet, but he told me
that there was a lot of very important letters bearing on the epoch
from '60 to '63, to and from many prominent Poles of that time:
and he added: "There is a bundle of correspondence that will
appeal to you personally. Those are letters written by your father
to an intimate friend in whose papers they were found. They
contain many references to yourself, though you couldn't have been
more than four years old at the time. Your father seems to have
been extremely interested in his son." That afternoon I went to
the University, taking with me MY eldest son. The attention of
that young Englishman was mainly attracted by some relics of
Copernicus in a glass case. I saw the bundle of letters and
accepted the kind proposal of the librarian that he should have
them copied for me during the holidays. In the range of the
deserted vaulted rooms lined with books, full of august memories,
and in the passionless silence of all this enshrined wisdom, we
walked here and there talking of the past, the great historical
past in which lived the inextinguishable spark of national life;
and all around us the centuries-old buildings lay still and empty,
composing themselves to rest after a year of work on the minds of
another generation.

No echo of the German ultimatum to Russia penetrated that
academical peace. But the news had come. When we stepped into the
street out of the deserted main quadrangle, we three, I imagine,
were the only people in the town who did not know of it. My boy
and I parted from the librarian (who hurried home to pack up for
his holiday) and walked on to the hotel, where we found my wife
actually in the car waiting for us to take a run of some ten miles
to the country house of an old school-friend of mine. He had been
my greatest chum. In my wanderings about the world I had heard
that his later career both at school and at the University had been
of extraordinary brilliance--in classics, I believe. But in this,
the iron-grey moustache period of his life, he informed me with
badly concealed pride that he had gained world fame as the
Inventor--no, Inventor is not the word--Producer, I believe would
be the right term--of a wonderful kind of beetroot seed. The beet
grown from this seed contained more sugar to the square inch--or
was it to the square root?--than any other kind of beet. He
exported this seed, not only with profit (and even to the United
States), but with a certain amount of glory which seemed to have
gone slightly to his head. There is a fundamental strain of
agriculturalist in a Pole which no amount of brilliance, even
classical, can destroy. While we were having tea outside, looking
down the lovely slope of the gardens at the view of the city in the
distance, the possibilities of the war faded from our minds.
Suddenly my friend's wife came to us with a telegram in her hand
and said calmly: "General mobilisation, do you know?" We looked
at her like men aroused from a dream. "Yes," she insisted, "they
are already taking the horses out of the ploughs and carts." I
said: "We had better go back to town as quick as we can," and my
friend assented with a troubled look: "Yes, you had better." As
we passed through villages on our way back we saw mobs of horses
assembled on the commons with soldiers guarding them, and groups of
villagers looking on silently at the officers with their note-books
checking deliveries and writing out receipts. Some old peasant
women were already weeping aloud.

When our car drew up at the door of the hotel, the manager himself
came to help my wife out. In the first moment I did not quite
recognise him. His luxuriant black locks were gone, his head was
closely cropped, and as I glanced at it he smiled and said: "I
shall sleep at the barracks to-night."

I cannot reproduce the atmosphere of that night, the first night
after mobilisation. The shops and the gateways of the houses were
of course closed, but all through the dark hours the town hummed
with voices; the echoes of distant shouts entered the open windows
of our bedroom. Groups of men talking noisily walked in the middle
of the road-way escorted by distressed women: men of all callings
and of all classes going to report themselves at the fortress. Now
and then a military car tooting furiously would whisk through the
streets empty of wheeled traffic, like an intensely black shadow
under the great flood of electric lights on the grey pavement.

But what produced the greatest impression on my mind was a
gathering at night in the coffee-room of my hotel of a few men of
mark whom I was asked to join. It was about one o'clock in the
morning. The shutters were up. For some reason or other the
electric light was not switched on, and the big room was lit up
only by a few tall candles, just enough for us to see each other's
faces by. I saw in those faces the awful desolation of men whose
country, torn in three, found itself engaged in the contest with no
will of its own, and not even the power to assert itself at the
cost of life. All the past was gone, and there was no future,
whatever happened; no road which did not seem to lead to moral
annihilation. I remember one of those men addressing me after a
period of mournful silence compounded of mental exhaustion and
unexpressed forebodings.

"What do you think England will do? If there is a ray of hope
anywhere it is only there."

I said: "I believe I know what England will do" (this was before
the news of the violation of Belgian neutrality arrived), "though I
won't tell you, for I am not absolutely certain. But I can tell
you what I am absolutely certain of. It is this: If England comes
into the war, then, no matter who may want to make peace at the end
of six months at the cost of right and justice, England will keep
on fighting for years if necessary. You may reckon on that."

"What, even alone?" asked somebody across the room.

I said: "Yes, even alone. But if things go so far as that England
will not be alone."

I think that at that moment I must have been inspired.



It can be safely said that for the last four years the seamen of
Great Britain have done well. I mean that every kind and sort of
human being classified as seaman, steward, fore-mast hand, fireman,
lamp-trimmer, mate, master, engineer, and also all through the
innumerable ratings of the Navy up to that of Admiral, has done
well. I don't say marvellously well or miraculously well or
wonderfully well or even very well, because these are simply over-
statements of undisciplined minds. I don't deny that a man may be
a marvellous being, but this is not likely to be discovered in his
lifetime, and not always even after he is dead. Man's
marvellousness is a hidden thing, because the secrets of his heart
are not to be read by his fellows. As to a man's work, if it is
done well it is the very utmost that can be said. You can do well,
and you can do no more for people to see. In the Navy, where human
values are thoroughly understood, the highest signal of
commendation complimenting a ship (that is, a ship's company) on
some achievements consists exactly of those two simple words "Well
done," followed by the name of the ship. Not marvellously done,
astonishingly done, wonderfully done--no, only just:

"Well done, so-and-so."

And to the men it is a matter of infinite pride that somebody
should judge it proper to mention aloud, as it were, that they have
done well. It is a memorable occurrence, for in the sea services
you are expected professionally and as a matter of course to do
well, because nothing less will do. And in sober speech no man can
be expected to do more than well. The superlatives are mere signs
of uninformed wonder. Thus the official signal which can express
nothing but a delicate share of appreciation becomes a great

Speaking now as a purely civil seaman (or, perhaps, I ought to say
civilian, because politeness is not what I have in my mind) I may
say that I have never expected the Merchant Service to do otherwise
than well during the war. There were people who obviously did not
feel the same confidence, nay, who even confidently expected to see
the collapse of merchant seamen's courage. I must admit that such
pronouncements did arrest my attention. In my time I have never
been able to detect any faint hearts in the ships' companies with
whom I have served in various capacities. But I reflected that I
had left the sea in '94, twenty years before the outbreak of the
war that was to apply its severe test to the quality of modern
seamen. Perhaps they had deteriorated, I said unwillingly to
myself. I remembered also the alarmist articles I had read about
the great number of foreigners in the British Merchant Service, and
I didn't know how far these lamentations were justified.

In my time the proportion of non-Britishers in the crews of the
ships flying the red ensign was rather under one-third, which, as a
matter of fact, was less than the proportion allowed under the very
strict French navigation laws for the crews of the ships of that
nation. For the strictest laws aiming at the preservation of
national seamen had to recognise the difficulties of manning
merchant ships all over the world. The one-third of the French law
seemed to be the irreducible minimum. But the British proportion
was even less. Thus it may be said that up to the date I have
mentioned the crews of British merchant ships engaged in deep water
voyages to Australia, to the East Indies and round the Horn were
essentially British. The small proportion of foreigners which I
remember were mostly Scandinavians, and my general impression
remains that those men were good stuff. They appeared always able
and ready to do their duty by the flag under which they served.
The majority were Norwegians, whose courage and straightness of
character are matters beyond doubt. I remember also a couple of
Finns, both carpenters, of course, and very good craftsmen; a
Swede, the most scientific sailmaker I ever met; another Swede, a
steward, who really might have been called a British seaman since
he had sailed out of London for over thirty years, a rather
superior person; one Italian, an everlastingly smiling but a
pugnacious character; one Frenchman, a most excellent sailor,
tireless and indomitable under very difficult circumstances; one
Hollander, whose placid manner of looking at the ship going to
pieces under our feet I shall never forget, and one young,
colourless, muscularly very strong German, of no particular
character. Of non-European crews, lascars and Kalashes, I have had
very little experience, and that was only in one steamship and for
something less than a year. It was on the same occasion that I had
my only sight of Chinese firemen. Sight is the exact word. One
didn't speak to them. One saw them going along the decks, to and
fro, characteristic figures with rolled-up pigtails, very dirty
when coming off duty and very clean-faced when going on duty. They
never looked at anybody, and one never had occasion to address them
directly. Their appearances in the light of day were very regular,
and yet somewhat ghostlike in their detachment and silence.

But of the white crews of British ships and almost exclusively
British in blood and descent, the immediate predecessors of the men
whose worth the nation has discovered for itself to-day, I have had
a thorough experience. At first amongst them, then with them, I
have shared all the conditions of their very special life. For it
was very special. In my early days, starting out on a voyage was
like being launched into Eternity. I say advisedly Eternity
instead of Space, because of the boundless silence which swallowed
up one for eighty days--for one hundred days--for even yet more
days of an existence without echoes and whispers. Like Eternity
itself! For one can't conceive a vocal Eternity. An enormous
silence, in which there was nothing to connect one with the
Universe but the incessant wheeling about of the sun and other
celestial bodies, the alternation of light and shadow, eternally
chasing each other over the sky. The time of the earth, though
most carefully recorded by the half-hourly bells, did not count in

It was a special life, and the men were a very special kind of men.
By this I don't mean to say they were more complex than the
generality of mankind. Neither were they very much simpler. I
have already admitted that man is a marvellous creature, and no
doubt those particular men were marvellous enough in their way.
But in their collective capacity they can be best defined as men
who lived under the command to do well, or perish utterly. I have
written of them with all the truth that was in me, and with an the
impartiality of which I was capable. Let me not be misunderstood
in this statement. Affection can be very exacting, and can easily
miss fairness on the critical side. I have looked upon them with a
jealous eye, expecting perhaps even more than it was strictly fair
to expect. And no wonder--since I had elected to be one of them
very deliberately, very completely, without any looking back or
looking elsewhere. The circumstances were such as to give me the
feeling of complete identification, a very vivid comprehension that
if I wasn't one of them I was nothing at all. But what was most
difficult to detect was the nature of the deep impulses which these
men obeyed. What spirit was it that inspired the unfailing
manifestations of their simple fidelity? No outward cohesive force
of compulsion or discipline was holding them together or had ever
shaped their unexpressed standards. It was very mysterious. At
last I came to the conclusion that it must be something in the
nature of the life itself; the sea-life chosen blindly, embraced
for the most part accidentally by those men who appeared but a
loose agglomeration of individuals toiling for their living away
from the eyes of mankind. Who can tell how a tradition comes into
the world? We are children of the earth. It may be that the
noblest tradition is but the offspring of material conditions, of
the hard necessities besetting men's precarious lives. But once it
has been born it becomes a spirit. Nothing can extinguish its
force then. Clouds of greedy selfishness, the subtle dialectics of
revolt or fear, may obscure it for a time, but in very truth it
remains an immortal ruler invested with the power of honour and


The mysteriously born tradition of sea-craft commands unity in a
body of workers engaged in an occupation in which men have to
depend upon each other. It raises them, so to speak, above the
frailties of their dead selves. I don't wish to be suspected of
lack of judgment and of blind enthusiasm. I don't claim special
morality or even special manliness for the men who in my time
really lived at sea, and at the present time live at any rate
mostly at sea. But in their qualities as well as in their defects,
in their weaknesses as well as in their "virtue," there was
indubitably something apart. They were never exactly of the earth
earthly. They couldn't be that. Chance or desire (mostly desire)
had set them apart, often in their very childhood; and what is to
be remarked is that from the very nature of things this early
appeal, this early desire, had to be of an imaginative kind. Thus
their simple minds had a sort of sweetness. They were in a way
preserved. I am not alluding here to the preserving qualities of
the salt in the sea. The salt of the sea is a very good thing in
its way; it preserves for instance one from catching a beastly cold
while one remains wet for weeks together in the "roaring forties."
But in sober unpoetical truth the sea-salt never gets much further
than the seaman's skin, which in certain latitudes it takes the
opportunity to encrust very thoroughly. That and nothing more.
And then, what is this sea, the subject of so many apostrophes in
verse and prose addressed to its greatness and its mystery by men
who had never penetrated either the one or the other? The sea is
uncertain, arbitrary, featureless, and violent. Except when helped
by the varied majesty of the sky, there is something inane in its
serenity and something stupid in its wrath, which is endless,
boundless, persistent, and futile--a grey, hoary thing raging like
an old ogre uncertain of its prey. Its very immensity is
wearisome. At any time within the navigating centuries mankind
might have addressed it with the words: "What are you, after all?
Oh, yes, we know. The greatest scene of potential terror, a
devouring enigma of space. Yes. But our lives have been nothing
if not a continuous defiance of what you can do and what you may
hold; a spiritual and material defiance carried on in our plucky
cockleshells on and on beyond the successive provocations of your
unreadable horizons."

Ah, but the charm of the sea! Oh, yes, charm enough. Or rather a
sort of unholy fascination as of an elusive nymph whose embrace is
death, and a Medusa's head whose stare is terror. That sort of
charm is calculated to keep men morally in order. But as to sea-
salt, with its particular bitterness like nothing else on earth,
that, I am safe to say, penetrates no further than the seamen's
lips. With them the inner soundness is caused by another kind of
preservative of which (nobody will be surprised to hear) the main
ingredient is a certain kind of love that has nothing to do with
the futile smiles and the futile passions of the sea.

Being love this feeling is naturally naive and imaginative. It has
also in it that strain of fantasy that is so often, nay almost
invariably, to be found in the temperament of a true seaman. But I
repeat that I claim no particular morality for seamen. I will
admit without difficulty that I have found amongst them the usual
defects of mankind, characters not quite straight, uncertain
tempers, vacillating wills, capriciousness, small meannesses; all
this coming out mostly on the contact with the shore; and all
rather naive, peculiar, a little fantastic. I have even had a
downright thief in my experience. One.

This is indeed a minute proportion, but it might have been my luck;
and since I am writing in eulogy of seamen I feel irresistibly
tempted to talk about this unique specimen; not indeed to offer him
as an example of morality, but to bring out certain characteristics
and set out a certain point of view. He was a large, strong man
with a guileless countenance, not very communicative with his
shipmates, but when drawn into any sort of conversation displaying
a very painstaking earnestness. He was fair and candid-eyed, of a
very satisfactory smartness, and, from the officer-of-the-watch
point of view,--altogether dependable. Then, suddenly, he went and
stole. And he didn't go away from his honourable kind to do that
thing to somebody on shore; he stole right there on the spot, in
proximity to his shipmates, on board his own ship, with complete
disregard for old Brown, our night watchman (whose fame for
trustworthiness was utterly blasted for the rest of the voyage) and
in such a way as to bring the profoundest possible trouble to all
the blameless souls animating that ship. He stole eleven golden
sovereigns, and a gold pocket chronometer and chain. I am really
in doubt whether the crime should not be entered under the category
of sacrilege rather than theft. Those things belonged to the
captain! There was certainly something in the nature of the
violation of a sanctuary, and of a particularly impudent kind, too,
because he got his plunder out of the captain's state-room while
the captain was asleep there. But look, now, at the fantasy of the
man! After going through the pockets of the clothes, he did not
hasten to retreat. No. He went deliberately into the saloon and
removed from the sideboard two big heavy, silver-plated lamps,
which he carried to the fore-end of the ship and stood
symmetrically on the knight-heads. This, I must explain, means
that he took them away as far as possible from the place where they
belonged. These were the deeds of darkness. In the morning the
bo'sun came along dragging after him a hose to wash the foc'sle
head, and, beholding the shiny cabin lamps, resplendent in the
morning light, one on each side of the bowsprit, he was paralysed
with awe. He dropped the nozzle from his nerveless hands--and such
hands, too! I happened along, and he said to me in a distracted
whisper: "Look at that, sir, look." "Take them back aft at once
yourself," I said, very amazed, too. As we approached the
quarterdeck we perceived the steward, a prey to a sort of sacred
horror, holding up before us the captain's trousers.

Bronzed men with brooms and buckets in their hands stood about with
open mouths. "I have found them lying in the passage outside the
captain's door," the steward declared faintly. The additional
statement that the captain's watch was gone from its hook by the
bedside raised the painful sensation to the highest pitch. We knew
then we had a thief amongst us. Our thief! Behold the solidarity
of a ship's company. He couldn't be to us like any other thief.
We all had to live under the shadow of his crime for days; but the
police kept on investigating, and one morning a young woman
appeared on board swinging a parasol, attended by two policemen,
and identified the culprit. She was a barmaid of some bar near the
Circular Quay, and knew really nothing of our man except that he
looked like a respectable sailor. She had seen him only twice in
her life. On the second occasion he begged her nicely as a great
favour to take care for him of a small solidly tied-up paper parcel
for a day or two. But he never came near her again. At the end of
three weeks she opened it, and, of course, seeing the contents, was
much alarmed, and went to the nearest police-station for advice.
The police took her at once on board our ship, where all hands were
mustered on the quarterdeck. She stared wildly at all our faces,
pointed suddenly a finger with a shriek, "That's the man," and
incontinently went off into a fit of hysterics in front of thirty-
six seamen. I must say that never in my life did I see a ship's
company look so frightened. Yes, in this tale of guilt, there was
a curious absence of mere criminality, and a touch of that fantasy
which is often a part of a seaman's character. It wasn't greed
that moved him, I think. It was something much less simple:
boredom, perhaps, or a bet, or the pleasure of defiance.

And now for the point of view. It was given to me by a short,
black-bearded A.B. of the crew, who on sea passages washed my
flannel shirts, mended my clothes and, generally, looked after my
room. He was an excellent needleman and washerman, and a very good
sailor. Standing in this peculiar relation to me, he considered
himself privileged to open his mind on the matter one evening when
he brought back to my cabin three clean and neatly folded shirts.
He was profoundly pained. He said: "What a ship's company! Never
seen such a crowd! Liars, cheats, thieves. . . "

It was a needlessly jaundiced view. There were in that ship's
company three or four fellows who dealt in tall yarns, and I knew
that on the passage out there had been a dispute over a game in the
foc'sle once or twice of a rather acute kind, so that all card-
playing had to be abandoned. In regard to thieves, as we know,
there was only one, and he, I am convinced, came out of his reserve
to perform an exploit rather than to commit a crime. But my black-
bearded friend's indignation had its special morality, for he
added, with a burst of passion: "And on board our ship, too--a
ship like this. . ."

Therein lies the secret of the seamen's special character as a
body. The ship, this ship, our ship, the ship we serve, is the
moral symbol of our life. A ship has to be respected, actually and
ideally; her merit, her innocence, are sacred things. Of all the
creations of man she is the closest partner of his toil and
courage. From every point of view it is imperative that you should
do well by her. And, as always in the case of true love, all you
can do for her adds only to the tale of her merits in your heart.
Mute and compelling, she claims not only your fidelity, but your
respect. And the supreme "Well done!" which you may earn is made
over to her.


It is my deep conviction, or, perhaps, I ought to say my deep
feeling born from personal experience, that it is not the sea but
the ships of the sea that guide and command that spirit of
adventure which some say is the second nature of British men. I
don't want to provoke a controversy (for intellectually I am rather
a Quietist) but I venture to affirm that the main characteristic of
the British men spread all over the world, is not the spirit of
adventure so much as the spirit of service. I think that this
could be demonstrated from the history of great voyages and the
general activity of the race. That the British man has always
liked his service to be adventurous rather than otherwise cannot be
denied, for each British man began by being young in his time when
all risk has a glamour. Afterwards, with the course of years, risk
became a part of his daily work; he would have missed it from his
side as one misses a loved companion.

The mere love of adventure is no saving grace. It is no grace at
all. It lays a man under no obligation of faithfulness to an idea
and even to his own self. Roughly speaking, an adventurer may be
expected to have courage, or at any rate may be said to need it.
But courage in itself is not an ideal. A successful highwayman
showed courage of a sort, and pirate crews have been known to fight
with courage or perhaps only with reckless desperation in the
manner of cornered rats. There is nothing in the world to prevent
a mere lover or pursuer of adventure from running at any moment.
There is his own self, his mere taste for excitement, the prospect
of some sort of gain, but there is no sort of loyalty to bind him
in honour to consistent conduct. I have noticed that the majority
of mere lovers of adventure are mightily careful of their skins;
and the proof of it is that so many of them manage to keep it whole
to an advanced age. You find them in mysterious nooks of islands
and continents, mostly red-nosed and watery-eyed, and not even
amusingly boastful. There is nothing more futile under the sun
than a mere adventurer. He might have loved at one time--which
would have been a saving grace. I mean loved adventure for itself.
But if so, he was bound to lose this grace very soon. Adventure by
itself is but a phantom, a dubious shape without a heart. Yes,
there is nothing more futile than an adventurer; but nobody can say
that the adventurous activities of the British race are stamped
with the futility of a chase after mere emotions.

The successive generations that went out to sea from these Isles
went out to toil desperately in adventurous conditions. A man is a
worker. If he is not that he is nothing. Just nothing--like a
mere adventurer. Those men understood the nature of their work,
but more or less dimly, in various degrees of imperfection. The
best and greatest of their leaders even had never seen it clearly,
because of its magnitude and the remoteness of its end. This is
the common fate of mankind, whose most positive achievements are
born from dreams and visions followed loyally to an unknown
destination. And it doesn't matter. For the great mass of mankind
the only saving grace that is needed is steady fidelity to what is
nearest to hand and heart in the short moment of each human effort.
In other and in greater words, what is needed is a sense of
immediate duty, and a feeling of impalpable constraint. Indeed,
seamen and duty are all the time inseparable companions. It has
been suggested to me that this sense of duty is not a patriotic
sense or a religious sense, or even a social sense in a seaman. I
don't know. It seems to me that a seaman's duty may be an
unconscious compound of these three, something perhaps smaller than
either, but something much more definite for the simple mind and
more adapted to the humbleness of the seaman's task. It has been
suggested also to me that the impalpable constraint is put upon the
nature of a seaman by the Spirit of the Sea, which he serves with a
dumb and dogged devotion.

Those are fine words conveying a fine idea. But this I do know,
that it is very difficult to display a dogged devotion to a mere
spirit, however great. In everyday life ordinary men require
something much more material, effective, definite and symbolic on
which to concentrate their love and their devotion. And then, what
is it, this Spirit of the Sea? It is too great and too elusive to
be embraced and taken to a human breast. All that a guileless or
guileful seaman knows of it is its hostility, its exaction of toil
as endless as its ever-renewed horizons. No. What awakens the
seaman's sense of duty, what lays that impalpable constraint upon
the strength of his manliness, what commands his not always dumb if
always dogged devotion, is not the spirit of the sea but something
that in his eyes has a body, a character, a fascination, and almost
a soul--it is his ship.

There is not a day that has passed for many centuries now without
the sun seeing scattered over all the seas groups of British men
whose material and moral existence is conditioned by their loyalty
to each other and their faithful devotion to a ship.

Each age has sent its contingent, not of sons (for the great mass
of seamen have always been a childless lot) but of loyal and
obscure successors taking up the modest but spiritual inheritance
of a hard life and simple duties; of duties so simple that nothing
ever could shake the traditional attitude born from the physical
conditions of the service. It was always the ship, bound on any
possible errand in the service of the nation, that has been the
stage for the exercise of seamen's primitive virtues. The dimness
of great distances and the obscurity of lives protected them from
the nation's admiring gaze. Those scattered distant ships'
companies seemed to the eyes of the earth only one degree removed
(on the right side, I suppose) from the other strange monsters of
the deep. If spoken of at all they were spoken of in tones of
half-contemptuous indulgence. A good many years ago it was my lot
to write about one of those ships' companies on a certain sea,
under certain circumstances, in a book of no particular length.

That small group of men whom I tried to limn with loving care, but
sparing none of their weaknesses, was characterised by a friendly
reviewer as a lot of engaging ruffians. This gave me some food for
thought. Was it, then, in that guise that they appeared through
the mists of the sea, distant, perplexed, and simple-minded? And
what on earth is an "engaging ruffian"? He must be a creature of
literary imagination, I thought, for the two words don't match in
my personal experience. It has happened to me to meet a few
ruffians here and there, but I never found one of them "engaging."
I consoled myself, however, by the reflection that the friendly
reviewer must have been talking like a parrot, which so often seems
to understand what it says.

Yes, in the mists of the sea, and in their remoteness from the rest
of the race, the shapes of those men appeared distorted, uncouth
and faint--so faint as to be almost invisible. It needed the lurid
light of the engines of war to bring them out into full view, very
simple, without worldly graces, organised now into a body of
workers by the genius of one of themselves, who gave them a place
and a voice in the social scheme; but in the main still apart in
their homeless, childless generations, scattered in loyal groups
over all the seas, giving faithful care to their ships and serving
the nation, which, since they are seamen, can give them no reward
but the supreme "Well Done."


"Work is the law. Like iron that lying idle degenerates into a
mass of useless rust, like water that in an unruffled pool sickens
into a stagnant and corrupt state, so without action the spirit of
men turns to a dead thing, loses its force, ceases prompting us to
leave some trace of ourselves on this earth." The sense of the
above lines does not belong to me. It may be found in the note-
books of one of the greatest artists that ever lived, Leonardo da
Vinci. It has a simplicity and a truth which no amount of subtle
comment can destroy.

The Master who had meditated so deeply on the rebirth of arts and
sciences, on the inward beauty of all things,--ships' lines,
women's faces--and on the visible aspects of nature was profoundly
right in his pronouncement on the work that is done on the earth.
From the hard work of men are born the sympathetic consciousness of
a common destiny, the fidelity to right practice which makes great
craftsmen, the sense of right conduct which we may call honour, the
devotion to our calling and the idealism which is not a misty,
winged angel without eyes, but a divine figure of terrestrial
aspect with a clear glance and with its feet resting firmly on the
earth on which it was born.

And work will overcome all evil, except ignorance, which is the
condition of humanity and, like the ambient air, fills the space
between the various sorts and conditions of men, which breeds
hatred, fear, and contempt between the masses of mankind, and puts
on men's lips, on their innocent lips, words that are thoughtless
and vain.

Thoughtless, for instance, were the words that (in all innocence, I
believe) came on the lips of a prominent statesman making in the
House of Commons an eulogistic reference to the British Merchant
Service. In this name I include men of diverse status and origin,
who live on and by the sea, by it exclusively, outside all
professional pretensions and social formulas, men for whom not only
their daily bread but their collective character, their personal
achievement and their individual merit come from the sea. Those
words of the statesman were meant kindly; but, after all, this is
not a complete excuse. Rightly or wrongly, we expect from a man of
national importance a larger and at the same time a more scrupulous
precision of speech, for it is possible that it may go echoing down
the ages. His words were:

"It is right when thinking of the Navy not to forget the men of the
Merchant Service, who have shown--and it is more surprising because
they have had no traditions towards it--courage as great," etc.,

And then he went on talking of the execution of Captain Fryatt, an
event of undying memory, but less connected with the permanent,
unchangeable conditions of sea service than with the wrong view
German minds delight in taking of Englishmen's psychology. The
enemy, he said, meant by this atrocity to frighten our sailors away
from the sea.

"What has happened?" he goes on to ask. "Never at any time in
peace have sailors stayed so short a time ashore or shown such a
readiness to step again into a ship."

Which means, in other words, that they answered to the call. I
should like to know at what time of history the English Merchant
Service, the great body of merchant seamen, had failed to answer
the call. Noticed or unnoticed, ignored or commanded, they have
answered invariably the call to do their work, the very conditions
of which made them what they are. They have always served the
nation's needs through their own invariable fidelity to the demands
of their special life; but with the development and complexity of
material civilisation they grew less prominent to the nation's eye
among all the vast schemes of national industry. Never was the
need greater and the call to the services more urgent than to-day.
And those inconspicuous workers on whose qualities depends so much
of the national welfare have answered it without dismay, facing
risk without glory, in the perfect faithfulness to that tradition
which the speech of the statesman denies to them at the very moment
when he thinks fit to praise their courage . . . and mention his

The hour of opportunity has struck--not for the first time--for the
Merchant Service; and if I associate myself with all my heart in
the admiration and the praise which is the greatest reward of brave
men I must be excused from joining in any sentiment of surprise.
It is perhaps because I have not been born to the inheritance of
that tradition, which has yet fashioned the fundamental part of my
character in my young days, that I am so consciously aware of it
and venture to vindicate its existence in this outspoken manner.

Merchant seamen have always been what they are now, from their
earliest days, before the Royal Navy had been fashioned out of the
material they furnished for the hands of kings and statesmen.
Their work has made them, as work undertaken with single-minded
devotion makes men, giving to their achievements that vitality and
continuity in which their souls are expressed, tempered and matured
through the succeeding generations. In its simplest definition the
work of merchant seamen has been to take ships entrusted to their
care from port to port across the seas; and, from the highest to
the lowest, to watch and labour with devotion for the safety of the
property and the lives committed to their skill and fortitude
through the hazards of innumerable voyages.

That was always the clear task, the single aim, the simple ideal,
the only problem for an unselfish solution. The terms of it have
changed with the years, its risks have worn different aspects from
time to time. There are no longer any unexplored seas. Human
ingenuity has devised better means to meet the dangers of natural
forces. But it is always the same problem. The youngsters who
were growing up at sea at the end of my service are commanding
ships now. At least I have heard of some of them who do. And
whatever the shape and power of their ships the character of the
duty remains the same. A mine or a torpedo that strikes your ship
is not so very different from a sharp, uncharted rock tearing her
life out of her in another way. At a greater cost of vital energy,
under the well-nigh intolerable stress of vigilance and resolution,
they are doing steadily the work of their professional forefathers
in the midst of multiplied dangers. They go to and fro across the
oceans on their everlasting task: the same men, the same stout
hearts, the same fidelity to an exacting tradition created by
simple toilers who in their time knew how to live and die at sea.

Allowed to share in this work and in this tradition for something
like twenty years, I am bold enough to think that perhaps I am not
altogether unworthy to speak of it. It was the sphere not only of
my activity but, I may safely say, also of my affections; but after
such a close connection it is very difficult to avoid bringing in
one's own personality. Without looking at all at the aspects of
the Labour problem, I can safely affirm that I have never, never
seen British seamen refuse any risk, any exertion, any effort of
spirit or body up to the extremest demands of their calling. Years
ago--it seems ages ago--I have seen the crew of a British ship
fight the fire in the cargo for a whole sleepless week and then,
with her decks blown up, I have seen them still continue the fight
to save the floating shell. And at last I have seen them refuse to
be taken off by a vessel standing by, and this only in order "to
see the last of our ship," at the word, at the simple word, of a
man who commanded them, a worthy soul indeed, but of no heroic
aspect. I have seen that. I have shared their days in small
boats. Hard days. Ages ago. And now let me mention a story of

I will try to relate it here mainly in the words of the chief
engineer of a certain steamship which, after bunkering, left
Lerwick, bound for Iceland. The weather was cold, the sea pretty
rough, with a stiff head wind. All went well till next day, about
1.30 p.m., then the captain sighted a suspicious object far away to
starboard. Speed was increased at once to close in with the Faroes
and good lookouts were set fore and aft. Nothing further was seen
of the suspicious object, but about half-past three without any
warning the ship was struck amidships by a torpedo which exploded
in the bunkers. None of the crew was injured by the explosion, and
all hands, without exception, behaved admirably.

The chief officer with his watch managed to lower the No. 3 boat.
Two other boats had been shattered by the explosion, and though
another lifeboat was cleared and ready, there was no time to lower
it, and "some of us jumped while others were washed overboard.
Meantime the captain had been busy handing lifebelts to the men and
cheering them up with words and smiles, with no thought of his own
safety." The ship went down in less than four minutes. The
captain was the last man on board, going down with her, and was
sucked under. On coming up he was caught under an upturned boat to
which five hands were clinging. "One lifeboat," says the chief

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