Selwyn Image.

Art, morals, and the war, a lecture delivered in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, on Thursday, November 12, 1914, by Selwyn Image online

. (page 1 of 2)
Online LibrarySelwyn ImageArt, morals, and the war, a lecture delivered in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, on Thursday, November 12, 1914, by Selwyn Image → online text (page 1 of 2)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


8061 '12 "wr-IVd
'A "N 'a^noBjA^,^








Price Sixpence net



















oxford: HORACE HART M.A.



As some of you may possibly remember, my last
lecture at the close of Summer Term was delivered
amid a tempest of thunder, lightning, and hail. We
meet to-day for the first lecture of this Term with the
whole world about us in a tempest indeed — a tempest
under which, in the prophetic words, ' the foundations
of the earth do shake ', and are being, as it were visibly,
' discovered \

You will not therefore be surprised, I am sure, nor
think it needs much apology on my part, if this afternoon
my thoughts run rather upon the War, and, as it seems
to me, the final, moral, spiritual significance of it, than
directly upon some aspect of Art. With my next
lecture we shall once again settle down quietly to our
particular business. On November the 26th I hope to
speak to you about that great man and wholly unique
artist Jean Fran9ois Millet— a lecture which I have
more than once promised you, and which will fit in very
well as a conclusion to the line of thought I was trying
throughout the whole of last year to lay before you in
my course from November to June, beginning with
Leonardo and ending with William Blake. On December
the 3rd our subject will be the Art of Lettering in Decora-
tion. If that title sounds to you at first hearing to impl}-
something uninterestingly specialized and not of general
importance, I shall be in hopes of convincing you to the
contrary. That of course waits to be seen. But at any
rate — if it is any consolation — both for the Millet after-
noon, and the afternoon on this Art of Lettering, I can
promise you some pleasing illustrations. For to-da}-
I have none.



I do not for a moment think, however, that I am
travelHng outside my proper province here in venturing
this afternoon to beg you to let me lay before you briefly
a few reflections upon the subject which is uppermost
in all our minds— the subject from whose imperious
obsession there is at the moment no escape for any of
us, be our special work and duties in the world what
they may.

And further than this. Within the last few weeks
there has appeared in the papers a Manifesto in respect
of the war issued as under a sense of public obligation,
a Manifesto bearing the signatures of a large number
of the professors and teachers in our Universities and
other seats of education. I am sorry that I was unaware
that any such Manifesto was in course of being drawn
up — the ignorance was doubtless due to my own fault,
still I am only the more sorry on that account — for had
I known of any such thing being in the air, I certainly
should have asked the privilege of being allowed to
append my name. I will be quite frank with you. It
would go very much to my heart if any suspicion should
arise that the occupant of the Chair of Fine Art in this
ancient and great University, however himself unworthy
and personally insignificant, had withheld his name from
so important a pronouncement, or had thought the thing
of so little moment as to be careless whether he signed
it or not. Let me put it to you. I am sure you are
well aware that if there is any one thing I have tried
to insist upon more than another during the tenure of
my professorship it is this — that Art is not an interest
for the world merely by the way, a side issue, a pleasant
entertainment for the speculation of the curious,
a refined pastime for the elect and leisured. I have
insisted upon this point not only in these public
lectures — in them sometimes I fear insisted almost ad
nauseam — but in whatever counsel I have had the privi-
leged opportunity of giving to students privately. May
I refer here in passing specially to that little body of


students in the University who earlier in the year
formed themselves into a club for artistic gatherings,
doing me the honour of making me an Honorary
Member of their club, and asking me to give it its open-
ing address ? Since I have been in Oxford nothing has
encouraged me more than that ; nothing has held out to
me so much a prospect of being at last possibly of some
practical service here, as the establishment by the under-
graduates themselves of the Georgian Club. But to-day
the work of this, as the work of many like societies,
must for a while, I fear, be much or altogether in abey-
ance. One regrets it — one regrets it bitterly — but it
cannot be helped. The call of our country on the young
to leave other matters, however absorbing, and do their
plain, first duty b}^ her has been peremptory. And
assuredly no artist, or teacher of art, who knows truly
what art means, but rejoices that so instinctively, so
promptly, in such numbers, have they answered to that
call, and are answering. Art will grudge none of us
answering to it each in his way. She knows that by
and by she will suffer no loss through our enforced
desertion of her : nay, that it will turn altogether vitally
to her gain. Those who come back anon to renew or
to enter upon her service will have had experience, one
fancies, by which many a wanton mood will be purged
out of them, many an idle conceit stripped off, many
a misguiding mist of mental or moral obliquity dispelled.
So much, then, I hope will serve by way of any
preface or apology, if such be necessary, in respect of
what I have in mind to say to you this afternoon. Nor
indeed, though in the greater part of what I say there is
certainly little or nothing bearing upon Art directly, am
I being impudent enough to beg your attention to reflec-
tions really foreign to its sane and wider consideration.
At any rate, believe me, so it seems to my thinking, and
I ask you to bear with me. I am giving you just and all
that at the moment it is in me to give at the start of this
new year's course of lectures — some expression, how-


ever imperfect, of what I am far from vainly sure the
artistic profession I have the honour to represent in this
University would wish Oxford to understand was its
feeling at this crisis in our history.

For indeed throughout these three and a half months
past, what thoughts have any of us had but of one
thing : nay, but of that one thing, what thoughts have
any of us still ? Those few closing days of July, those
four strained opening days of August ; and then, at
midnight of that fateful Wednesday, the 5th, we knew
at last the worst — War was upon us ! The wo7'st, one
says. Yes, in a sense. But by and by I don't think we
shall say the worst. God forbid that I should be talking
in any light-hearted fashion. War came upon us, came
upon us as a bolt out of the blue — that terrible thing,
War. And — what a war !

In extent, in the number of those engaged in it, in the
novel and deadly character of the engines employed in
it, in the slaughter and devastation necessarily resulting
from it, a war of unexampled horror. Yet it is not of
these things that I am at the moment thinking. One
can hardly take up a paper without one's eye being
caught perpetually by such head-lines as * The Vastest
War ever waged ', ' The Longest Battle ever known on
Earth ', ' Three Million Men over a line 200 miles in
length at deadly grip ', * Unprecedented Slaughter, out-
Heroding Barbaric Ruthlessness ', and the like. Things
perfectly true, things perfectly natural and proper to
insist on, things replete with import and suggestion
which have to be faced and appreciated, things which at
the moment in the crashing hurly-burly of the struggle
loom largest.

Yet, by and by, when in God's good time the world
is come once more sanely at peace, ah ! then, I venture to
suggest to you, they will not so loom. It is not by
physical scale— the scale of its armies, the scale of the
territories involved in it, the scale even of its devastation
and horrors, that in days ahead this war will be seen


most significantly to be characterized. Scale is an
amazingly impressive thing, I allow you ; it grips and it
dazes us, it appears at the moment as that which is of
uttermost consequence. What is there, then, about this
war so uniquely gigantic beyond all question, what is
there about it which some time will eclipse its gigantical-
ness ? That is what I am asking you to fix 3'our mind
upon this afternoon. I know it requires some effort to
fix one's mind upon it. As I have just said, you and
I are in the hurly-burly of the struggle. We are in
a fever to know what is happening, how things are
going with us and our allies. We want news, news.
There come news of a success, and we are elated.
There come news of a rebuff, and we are dispirited. All
of us are. It is but nature, it is inevitable. There is no
such thing possible as quite unconcernedly keeping our
heads. The ebb and flow of affairs strain us. But the
thing is — what does this struggle, this unprecedentedly
gigantic struggle, mean ? What are we, and as one
may say the whole civilized world, what are we all at?

Well, the answer is — and I almost think for the first
time in the history of the British Empire could such an
answer be given — the answer is that we are in the midst
of a war, literally and simply, of Ideals, of quite funda-
mental Principles, bed-rock principles as the phrase
goes, as to what Human Civilization means. Moreover,
it is in respect of these a war to the finish, to the death.
There must be no half-measures this time, no by and
by 3aelding to natural feelings of compunction as if
we had gone far enough, no inconclusive results and
patched-up peace, whatever exhaustion be involved.

Let me put it to you as plainly as I can.

In a quite vital sense we are at war to preserve our
own national independence. If Germany — I mean by
Germany throughout the Dominant Military Caste in
Germany — could really have her way in this war, if she
could finally bring to pass that which she set out to
bring to pass, which this many a day she has dreamed


of and strenuously prepared for, there would no more
be any England as you and I know it and love it. I will
do Germany the credit of saying that of this she has
made no secret. It needs very slight acquaintance
with the utterances of the Potsdam autocrats, their
philosophers and professors, to see this clear as is the
sun in the sky. We are fighting, then, to preserv^e our
own national independence. But that we have done
before now, notably a hundred years since, when
Napoleon was straddling over Europe; and many
another nation beside us has in its time done the like.
It is most important, it is vital, that we should fight for
our national independence as long as breath is in our
bodies. But in the present war we are doing something
more than this; and something even more vital than
this. What is it ?

Three and a half months ago there was no thought of
war in us. We are not a bellicose people. More than
that, we are not a people easily stirred into believing
that others have an evil eye on us, long to have their
knife into us. We may not be an effusive people ; but
we are good-natured, like to be friends, and are not
prone to suspicion of our neighbours. I do not mean
that we are immaculate, that we have not serious faults,
that we may plume ourselves on possession of all the
virtues, and pat one another on the back with illimitable
self-satisfaction. But what I have just ventured to say
about us British, that at least I do think we are fairly
justified in saying.

But those fateful opening days of August last brought
us a rude awakening. When Germany violated her
solemnly pledged word to Belgium, and violated it con-
temptuously, cynically, all of us were for the moment
stunned, could scarce credit our ears. But the next
moment, in the twinkling of an eye, we had quietly
made up our mind what we had to do. We had to
fight Germany. Why had we to fight her ? Because,
but not only because, we were pledged to Belgium, and


it is our way to stand to our word. Because, but not
only because, France and Russia were our friends, and
it is our way to stand by friends as far as may be.
Because, but not only because, the scales now beginning
to fall from our sight, we had a shrewd forecast that
Germany had her eye on us too for by and by— a fore-
cast developing events have justified up to the hilt.
For all these things Germany had to be fought ; but
not for these alone. There was a higher and a sterner
call upon us to fight than even these ; and we realized
it. By a sort of miraculous intuition we realized it on
the instant ; and, thank God, on the instant our minds
were made up to answer it. Every stage and experience
of this war since it began only more and more justify
that intuition, show how sane and healthy it was. Nor
is it only the events and revelations of the war that
justify it, but also the more intimate study of the modern
German mind and character upon which these events
and revelations have thrown us. Mark you, I say
advisedly the modern German mind and character — that
modern mind and character debauched and disgraced
by the inhuman and insolent Prussian mind and
character, to which so strangely, thoroughly, and, as in
the event it will prove disastrously to them, alas ! these
Germans at large have unworthily submitted themselves.

Now, what is this Prussian mind and character — let
us call it simply Prussianism? Cover it up in what
resounding phrases you like— envelop it in whatever
deceptive mist of historical, philosophic, scientific
research and argument, the essence of Prussianism, the
naked thing itself, is this — an insatiate craving for
material Dominance over your fellow-men, and an
unrestrained acceptance of the doctrine that towards
grasping this Dominance Might gives you Right. That,
I say, is the naked ugly thing itself.

Well, once accept that end as your ideal in life, and
that doctrine as a legitimate means towards attaining
your ideal, and it needs no prophet to foresee into


what courses of behaviour you will be led. Sooner or
later every seed bringeth forth fruit after its own kind.
As surely as the apple-stock bears apples and the thistle-
weed thistle-down, this absorption of man's soul on
material Dominance, and his acceptance of the one law
of Might, lead him naturally and inevitably, as oppor-
tunity or necessity present themselves, into unscrupu-
lousness, terrorism, lying, cruelty, treachery, every
dishonourable species of conceivable meanness. In the
continuous history of Prussianism since in the seven-
teenth century the Hohenzollern dynasty first came
prominently to a head we can read this writ plain. The
origin and course of the present war only bring home
through actual experience to us all what many of us
have long known through the pages of history. I will
remind you of but a single instance to the point. The
base cynical violation of Germany's pledged word to
Belgium in this war is exactly paralleled by the base
cynical violation of Frederick the Great's pledged word
to Maria Theresa in the middle of the eighteenth
century, when he invaded Silesia. You remember that
along with the other European rulers Frederick had
solemnly bound himself by treaty to maintain the
Pragmatic Sanction by virtue of which Silesia was
secured to the Queen of Hungar3^ He professed to be
the Queen's devoted friend and admirer. Yet, note you,
without any declaration of war, actually while paying to
Maria Theresa his fulsome comphments and cajoHng
her into supposing he was amongst her most steadfast
friends, Frederick had already in secrecy brought
a large body of his troops into Silesia and begun its

That was Frederick the Great, the hero and idol of
the Hohenzollerns, of the military caste of Potsdam,
of Prussianism. There in a single notorious instance
you have a sample of Prussianism in its spirit and its
behaviour. To-day we are witnesses of the foul thing
grown to the full, intoxicating and spreading its fatal


growth over a whole people in so many ways admirable
and great. One may recall Frederick's own words
about himself uttered in a moment of frank self-expres-
sion over this very Silesian business. He had his
qualms, it would appear, to start with. But then, he
says — they are his own words — ' Ambition, interest, the
desire of making people talk about me, carried the day ;
and I decided for war.' Well, there you have it in
a nutshell. Nothing is sacred to Prussianism but its
own selfish ambition. No treaties are sacred, no pledges
to observe certain laws of warfare, no consideration of
innocent peoples caught in war's onward progress, no
consideration of responsibility to the world at large for
the world's common treasures of history and art, no
sense of how a gentle and fine nature acts when it finds
itself under the compulsion of war. In a word— the
thing is now clear as daylight— in its insensate and
vulgar lust of power there is no Blackguardism to which
Prussianism will not, in order to secure its purpose,
allow itself to descend.

The marvel of it! the appalling lesson it is to all men
at large ! I know it is a hard saying, and I have no
mind to be unduly hard. I have no mind to exaggerate.
But am I exaggerating ? I only wish to see things as
they are, and on occasion it is well to call a spade
a spade. Now, I put it to you : Is there any other
word more literally true than this precise word Black-
guardism of such conduct as Frederick the Great's to
Maria Theresa, or of Bismarck's forged telegram in
1870, or of the Kaiser's violation of the Belgian treaty,
or of the destruction of Louvain, or of the bombard-
ment of Rheims Cathedral, or of the infamies to women
and children throughout Belgium, or of the dropping of
bombs over defenceless towns, or of the sowing of the
open sea with mines, or during a time of peace of secretly
preparing places as platforms for your siege guns in your
neighbours' land whose hospitality and protection you
are freely accepting, or of honeycombing during a time


of peace your neighbours' society with spies, instructed
by you to grasp their neighbour with the hand of friend-
ship and be profuse in their protestations of loyalty ?
For such things as these is there any better word than
Blackguardism? And with such things as these the
tale, alas ! of Prussianism is replete.

And now, mark you, these and other such things as

I have mentioned are the direct and applauded fruits

of Prussianism, things from their earliest youth instilled

into its subjects, not only as pardonable at a pinch, but

as admirable ; they are by no means mere unfortunate

accidents and misapprehensions by the way. For again,

listen a moment, not now to Frederick but to Bismarck,

calmly enunciating his doctrine of war: 'Above all, you

must inflict on the inhabitants of invaded towns', he

sa3's, ' the maximum of suffering that they may become

sick of the struggle, and may bring pressure to bear on

their Government to discontinue it. You must leave

the people through whom you march only their eyes

to weep with. In every case the principle which guided

our Generals was that war must be made terrible to the

civil population, so that it may sue for peace.' There

is the Prussian theory and aim, not blurted out in a

moment of passion, but deliberately and quietly set forth

as permanent sound doctrine for its people. Grasp that.

These things I have just mentioned are but examples

of the accredited methods by which Prussianism seeks

to make her civilization prevail, and by which she boasts

that it is the decree of the Eternal that she shall succeed

in making it prevail the world over. About this,

since Bismarck's time, such established authorities as

Treitschke and his pupil Bernhardi make no bones — one

may at least put to their credit this much of honesty.

But there has been a more subtle influence at work of

recent years in Germany — one has felt it stealing over

here as well — than Treitschke's or Bernhardi's. It is

the half-rhapsodic, half-philosophic, half scientific teach*

ing of Friedrich Nietzsche that has poisoned the wells of


thought. Throughout his hectic career — one must
remember in some palliation of him the poor man died
in a lunatic asylum — Nietzsche virulently proclaimed
himself as an Anti-Christ, the apostle of Unmorality,
the scorner of any idea as to there being such a thing
as an eternal distinction between Evil and Good. His
inventions of the Super-man and The-Will-to-Povver
have passed into catchwords amongst his innumerable
admirers ; and fed upon such diet as he dispensed to
them and they greedily swallowed, his countrymen have
grown to regard themselves as indeed super-men —
super-men whose will-to-power over the entire nations
of the earth nothing can finally stand against.

I am well aware that enamoured students and
defenders of Nietzsche assure us that his teaching has
been grievously misapprehended ; and that so far from
Prussianism embodying his ideas, it would have been
wholly abhorrent to him. To some extent this may be
so. Nietzsche throughout was in spite of his genius of so
unbalanced a mind, that it is questionable whether he
himself often knew clearly what his ideas were, and still
less whether he saw what results were involved in them.
But apart from the consideration of Nietzsche's own
character and responsibility this matters little. What
does matter is that, whether rightly or wrongly, a vast
number of his countrymen have sucked in poison from
the man, and have translated his teaching into a specious
philosophic and scientific justification for their own un-
regenerate arrogance, irreverence, and selfish brutality.
Whether Nietzsche himself would have held that the
Prussian idea of culture and civilization, and the
Prussian means of making them prevail, were right or
wrong, may be a question. But there is no question that
it is largely owing to him that these Prussian ideas and
means have found suitable soil to prosper in, and have
produced the monstrous abortion now facing us. I have
tried to suggest to you what Prussianism means, and
what our fight with it means. As I said at the outset,


this war is a war of Ideals, a war over irreconcilable
principles as to what human civilization means. The
truth is, we are at fight not against Flesh and Blood,
but against spiritual Principalities and Powers. We
are at fight not to acquire territory and power, not even
merely to defend our own territory and power, and the
territory and power of our aUies. We are at fight to
prevent the lowest and most inhuman conception of
civihzation gaining dominance to corrupt mankind.
With whatever limitations present or to come of human
weakness, we are at fight to assert our behef in Right-
eousness and Human Brotherhood, and our consequent
belief that the idea of the supremacy of material Might,
with its inevitable insidious accompaniment of fraud
and cruelty, as a basis of civilization is an idea foul and
damnable, an idea that must be utterly discredited and
swept once and for all out of the consideration of even
the most ill-informed, ill-regulated mind. That ultimately
is what we have gone into this war for. And it is that
above all else which those who come after us will
recognize as in this war its vital characteristic : not its
giganticalness, not its unexampled horrors — not these —
but the genuine enthusiasm for, and clear vision of the
supreme importance to the world of. Righteousness,
with which on our side it was calmly, unhesitatingly
undertaken, and seen through to victory.

Undertaken thus. Yes, I do think it. Undertaken


Online LibrarySelwyn ImageArt, morals, and the war, a lecture delivered in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, on Thursday, November 12, 1914, by Selwyn Image → online text (page 1 of 2)