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As one of the major writers about World War I, Ford Madox Ford produced a number of widely read stories, novels, and essays about the war. His four-volume Parade's End has been called "the greatest modern war novel from a British writer" (Malcolm Bradbury). This collection of his other published and unpublished writings illuminates the tetralogy. It includes reminiscences, an unfinished novel, stories, and prefaces.
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By Ford Madox Ford, Max Saunders
Carcanet Press LtdCopyright © 2011 Max Saunders
All rights reserved.
An Englishman Looks at the World
From the second of Ford's two propaganda books, Between St Denis and St George: A Sketch of Three Civilisations (Hodder and Stoughton, 1915), Part II, chapters 1 and 2. Ford's heading echoes H.G. Wells's 1914 book of the same title.
Let us attempt to recapture, in as precise a phraseology as we may, what was the British psychology immediately prior to the outbreak of the present war, and what was the state of affairs in England then. So remote does that period seem that the task is one of some difficulty, and the field is singularly open to those who are anxious to prove that Great Britain at that date was a militarist menace to the rest of Europe. So absolutely are our minds now fixed upon the affairs of the present, so bellicose in consequence has every proper man become, that, if Mr Bernard Shaw or Herr Dernburg choose to assert that before July 1914 every Englishman was a raging fire-eater, there are few of us with our minds sufficiently concentrated upon the immediate past to be able to question, much less to confute, those generalisations. And that is partly a matter of shame. Because the necessities of the day are so essentially martial we are ashamed to think that we were ever pacifist; because Germany – the German peoples as well as the Prussian State – have now put into practice precepts which they have been enjoining for the last century and a decade, I am ashamed to think that less than a year ago I had, for the German peoples, if not for the Prussian State, a considerable affection and some esteem. By a coincidence, then, which I must regard as the most curious of my life – though, indeed, in these kaleidoscopic days something similar may well have been the fate of many inhabitants of these islands – in the middle of July, 1914, I was in Berwickshire engaged in nothing less than tentative machinations against the seat in Parliament of – Sir Edward Grey! In the retrospect this may well appear to have been a fantastic occupation, but how fantastic do not all our occupations of those days now appear! On the morning of July 20th, 1914, I stood upon the platform of Berwick-on-Tweed station reading the London papers. The London papers were exceedingly excited, and I cannot say that I myself was other than pessimistic – as to the imbecility of human nature, and, more particularly, as to the imbecility of the Liberal Party, and, more particularly again, as to that of the editors of the — and the —, which are Liberal party organs. These organs at that date were, in veiled language, calling for the abdication of the King of England. That, again, sounds fantastic. But there it is; the files of the newspapers are there to testify to it.
Those organs, then, reminded the world, the sovereign, or what it is convenient to call the Court Party, that the day for the intervention of monarchs in public affairs was past; that an immense and passionate democracy, international in its functions and one-minded in its aspirations, had taken control of the world, and that the past, with its absolutisms, its oligarchisms, its so very limited monarchies, its dictatorships, and its wars was over and done with. We had had a very tiring London season; I seem to recapture still very well the feelings of lassitude which made me dislike having to turn my mind again to excited political matters. By the middle of July in a properly constituted world the Eton and Harrow match and the Universities' match at Lord's have brought the interests of the world to an end. We seek brighter skies than those of London; the Houses of Parliament may be expected to slumber for a few days more upon their benches and the Press devotes itself to the activities of the sea-serpent or to speculation as to ideal matrimonial states, We do not, as a rule, look for newspapers during August.
Besides, I had got myself into a frame of mind for occupying my thoughts with past things – polished armour, shining swords, fortresses, conflagrations, the driving off of cattle, the burning of inhabitants within their dwellings – all those impossible things of the past which assuredly would never come again. For, on July 20th, 1914, it was impossible to think of war, though it might be desirable to eject Sir Edward Grey from the parliamentary representation of the town of Berwick-on-Tweed. Sir Edward Grey was undoubtedly a nuisance. My own chief objection to him was that in 1909 he had not sufficiently backed up Russia when Austria annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina. I said to myself, and I said frequently to other people, that Great Britain had gained a lasting discredit from this instance of the pusillanimity of its rulers. What credit, indeed, I asked, could ever attach to Great Britain again in the councils of the nations? As it appeared to me, Sir Edward Grey had not backed up Russia, but had ever since been attempting to propitiate that Empire by presenting her with little spiced cakes in the form of valuable spheres of influence – now it was bits of Persia, now Mongolia, now it was some other pin-prick to Germany which Russia asked for. I regarded Sir Edward Grey's chief occupation, since he had lately announced that he never read the newspapers, as being that of delivering ceaseless pin-pricks to Germany. This roused Germany, which had always seemed to me a rather childish Power, to slightly absurd foamings at the mouth and threats of a war that was obviously impossible. People would not go to war; public opinion was against it. Democracy, though it might be a nuisance as a too facile instrument in the hands of party politicians, and even a menace when voiced by the — and the —, would at least have the virtue of its defects, and, with no uncertain voice, would prohibit the firing of a single shot. War, anyhow, was impossible.
I am, perhaps, attaching too much importance to my speculations as to war. For the fact is that I did not speculate as to war at all. It was one of the impossible things that we left out of our calculations altogether. It was like the idea of one's personal death which one dislikes contemplating and puts out of the mind; but it had – the idea of war – none of the inevitability that attaches to the idea of death.
Nevertheless, Sir Edward Grey was a nuisance. By his pin-pricks he fomented the absurd rages of Germany and thus brought Germany into the foreground of things. And, whatever the world needed, it particularly did not need attention drawn to Germany. Germany, at that date, I hoped, was well on the road to national bankruptcy, and going faster and faster in that direction. And the sooner Germany was done for by those pacific means the better I should be pleased, since one might hope that the Germans would then return to their simple pastoral pursuits, leave off sitting in overheated red-plush restaurants, reading offensive and gross journals, and drinking chemical drinks that were not good for them. But, indeed, except for thinking that Sir Edward Grey paid a great deal too much attention to Germany, I bothered my head about that Power very little. It may even be possible that I am giving you too elaborate a picture of my frame of mind as I stood upon the platform of Berwick-on-Tweed station reading the daily papers on July 20th, 1914. And yet I do not think that I am over -exaggerating what passed through my mind. It is true that I had wanted to think about the Border warfare; about Rokehope, which would have been a pleasant place if the false thieves would let it be; about Edom o' Gordon; about the Widdringtons, and about the little old bridge that goes across the Tweed into England from Berwick which is neither England nor Scotland, but just Berwick. And the quaint reflection crossed my mind that, if ever England went to war with Russia as her ally, we might well attainder Sir Edward Grey, since Sir Edward Grey sits for Berwick, and Berwick is still at war with Russia, the proclamation of peace after the Crimea having been omitted in the town of Berwick-on-Tweed, which is neither England nor Scotland.
At any rate, there I was upon the long, narrow, crowded platform of the station, and I had an hour and a half to wait for the train that was to convey me to the town of Duns, in Berwickshire. I was surrounded and a good deal jostled by an alien, dark, foreign-spoken population; mariners all, all loud-voiced, all discoursing rather incomprehensibly of the doings of the Ann and Nellie, of the Peter Smith and of the Last Hope. They talked, these dusky people, in the gloom of the covered platform, of singular feats of sailing, of nets, of rock-salt, and of the gutting of herrings. The situation, and the hour, were all the more proper for introspection and for taking stock of oneself, not only because of the intense solitude amongst that populace from whom I was certainly descended, as because of the fact that an immense public convulsion was about to overwhelm the people of at least one of these islands, and because, amidst threats of revolution in the other islands, a definite step had been taken. On July 19th, 1914, in fact, His Majesty the King had summoned a Conference to discuss the Home Rule problem. I was going, however, to have a good deal of golf, some billiards, some auction, and, I hoped, some riding amongst the Cheviots, and I am bound to confess that, if the golf and the auction were not the chief interests in my existence, for the moment, at any rate, the topography of that Border country was really the major interest of a period in which I was inclined mostly for what is known as 'slacking.' One doesn't know what one will find in a country-house to which one is going for the first time, so that, during such waitings at junctions, a certain amount of mental drifting is perhaps pardonable. [...]
The reader will by this time be aware that I am describing truthfully and as carefully as possible the frame of mind of the average Englishman of July 1914. I am attempting, therefore, to provide as exact an historical document as if I were reporting the procès verbal of the trial of Joan of Arc or the speeches and votes during a sitting of Parliament. I am presenting, perfectly accurately, the workings of a comparatively normal English mind on an occasion which, for personal reasons, remains singularly clearly with me. This seems to me to be a method of controversy much more fair than that which would consist in saying, 'The Englishman is a militarist', or 'The Englishman is a flannelled fool too indifferent to public matters to think of anything other than the problem of getting past "silly point".'CHAPTER 2
Pon ... ti ... pri ... ith
(translated by Max Saunders)
Ford wrote the following essay in French in the autumn of 1918, when he had returned from the Western Front, and was attached to the staff in Yorkshire, inspecting, training and lecturing. It appeared in La Revue des Idées in November 1918 (pp. 233–8). It was probably written as further propaganda for the Ministry of Information. But like all Ford's propaganda, it is oblique. The editor perhaps felt it necessary to say Ford's 'inclinations are clearly anti-German' precisely because the piece doesn't read like an anti-German tract. The Germans are not even mentioned. The fighting is not directly described. What does come across is an intense elegiac poignancy, embracing both the Welsh soldiers and the French citizens who welcome them. Again, like so much of Ford's writing, it is autobiographic, reminiscential, and impressionist: more a personal attempt to render his state of mind, than a public polemic. And, as so often, Ford expresses the effects of war on his mind – how shell-shock disturbed his memory; how grief colours his remembrance of his fellow-soldiers. He does this partly in terms of art: visionary fragments of scenes, works of art, works of literature. The whole piece is offered as a picture. Ford is a man of his times, conscious of tradition and modernity. The editor calls him a leader of the English impressionist school; and certainly Ford often styled himself impressionist, along with James, Stephen Crane, and Conrad. The sight of Flaubert's house meant so much to him because Flaubert had always been one of the writers he admired most. Yet Ford describes his method of composition here in more modern terms: as an exercise in cubism. It was a combination of impressionism and hallucinatory collage that would become the stylistic principle of his post-war writing.
Ford Madox Hueffer was born in 1873. He has been strongly influenced by French literature and is now one of the leaders of the English impressionist school. His inclinations are clearly anti -German; his last book 'Zeppelin Nights' was written in collaboration with Violet Hunt.
Here is the most coloured picture, the most moving vision of the whole war – for me and for so many others who are no longer there!
As for me, I am going to tell you why this vision comes back to me, clear and light, blue and vermilion, in spite of all the shadows of violet smoke, like those touching illuminations, which represent towns, calvaries and people, such as you can see in the book of hours of Mary Queen of Scots at Rimini ...
* * *
A flight of linnets passed between the two masts of the vessel which, heavily laden with men, was panting up the calm river. Some cows, white, dazzling, spotted with black, raised their friendly, gentle heads. Their glistening flanks reflected the azure of the summer sky and the grass of the meadows. They watched our laborious passage without astonishment, we who were going up the garlanded river ...
For the river was garlanded, in its Sunday best! A whole population was walking in the meadows near the water; in black dress-coats, white dresses, the people were standing in the orchards which sheltered the little green hills; they were leaving the churches waving handkerchiefs, scarves, top-hats; they were leaning out of the windows of the little white and red houses. So many colours, so many cheerful and friendly sounds, were reaching us across the water which refined and softened the human noises, that each of us said, in his own soul:
'Well, they believe in us!'
* * *
It was the 8th July 1916, and I believe it was a Sunday. Because we had left Cardiff on Friday the 6th; we had spend the night at London and left the port of Southampton towards midnight on Saturday. But that is all blackish clouds; all that comes back to me like one of those Futurist or cubist pictures which we had discussed throughout July 1914 ... July 1914!
Anyway, it was perhaps the 9th July, and Monday ... But no, it was the 8th ... I don't remember any more; so many things were effaced from my memories since the morning when I woke up in the C[asualty] C[learing] S[tation] at Corbie, that I was not able to answer when they asked me my name.
I could perfectly well tell you what I did, what I said, thought and accomplished on the 6th July 1891, a quarter of a century ago; or even in September 1892, when I visited the town of Albert to write an account of its art-nouveau church ... Art nouveau! and I remember very well what I wrote about it. But as for what happened to us between the 6th and the ? July 1916 – to we others of the Welch Regiment – it only comes back to me as some fragments, confused, comic or even pathetic, as in a cubist picture ...
In a corner of this picture is the menu of a sort of restaurant Duval, in Cardiff; 'sweetbread à la financière, fourpence'; and the left eye of a crying woman; and part of Newport station and the large nose of a Colonel; and then, of Waterloo station – the livid light, the canopy, high and banal; and the mothers, and the wives and girlfriends of the Welch officers; and the little brown Tommies, heavily engrossed; and their wives who were carrying pale babies and the tin badges of their husbands. And all laughing and crying and jostling each other ... and the alabaster hands shaking behind the 'photographic representative' of the Northcliffe papers, who has his head hidden under his black velvet hood, and who exhorts us to assume imbecile smiles ... Clouds, shadows, pale faces, spirals of violet smoke, out of which loomed the iron columns supporting the station roof – enormous and as it were deathly ...
* * *
And then this cubist picture effaced itself and gave way to a small canvas, as who should say Pre-Raphaelite, at the flight of the linnets who were escaping; the white cows spotted with black; the good bourgeois in their Sunday-best; the meadows under the summer sun and the small pink clouds which lost themselves in the depth of the blue beyond the Château Gaillard ...
We all came from South Wales – and I would like to bet that the reader of goodwill will never have heard anyone talking here of South Wales ... Well, the Welsh race is the indigenous race of the British Isles – 'the little, dark persistent race' – of the ethnographers; and I must add, obstinate and a little mystical ... and difficult!
Excerpted from War Prose by Ford Madox Ford, Max Saunders. Copyright © 2011 Max Saunders. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
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Table of Contents
A Note on the Texts,
An Englishman Looks at the World,
'Pon ... ti ... pri ... ith',
Arms and the Mind/War and the Mind,
Trois Jours de Permission,
From I Revisit the Riviera,
True Love & a GCM,
Six Short Stories:,
Preface to Their Lives, by Violet Hunt,
The Trail of the Barbarians,
From 'A Note by way of Preface' to All Else is Folly by Peregrine Acland,
The Three Dedicatory Letters to Parade's End,
Early Responses to the War,
Reading Behind the Lines,
Illness and Regeneration,
Lecturing to the Army,
Immediate Effects on the Mind and on Literature,
After-Effects on the Mind, Literature and Society,
Memorialising the War,
About the Author,
Also By Ford Madox Ford From Carcanet,
What People are Saying About This
"War Prose is largely about shock, and contrast: about fear and the contradictory, near-insane lack of fear, because of distraction, busyness; the contrast, also, of a soldier's life (and death) and the lives of upper-class civilians."
-Times Literary Supplement,
"Saunders has pulled together a rich variety of reflections on conflict and its aftermath."
-London Review of Books