Appendix 18: de Candole, de C, and the Great War.

a) Alec de Candole’s short life can be summarised as follows. He was born on January 26th 1897; he was at Marlborough School in 1912 and was elected to a Classical Exhibition at Trinity College, Cambridge in December 1915, his hope being, eventually, to take Holy Orders. But in April 1916 he left school to join the army, and after training he received his Commission in the 4th Wilts Regiment. He was in action in France in April 1917; had a short leave in September 1917; was wounded on October 28th 1917, and was sent back to England – to Salisbury Plain – to recuperate for some months. In July 1918 he was sent to France again, where he was killed in action on the night of September 3rd 1918. He was just 21 years old.

After his death, de Candole’s family arranged the publication of his work. The first was a small volume of essays entitled The Faith of a Subaltern: Essays on Religion and Life, which he had written during his recuperation on Salisbury Plain in the early part of 1918. This was published by Cambridge University Press in March 1919. The second was a privately published volume of his Poems – his collected works, and containing, so the Biographical Note at the front of the book tells us, “practically all his poems.” This was privately printed for the family by the Cambridge University Press at the end of 1919. There are 85 poems in it, all told, arranged in chronological order, written between 1912 and his death in 1918, followed by a lengthy “Arthurian Romance”, “A Biblical Play” and another play, “The Fall of Carthage.” A year later, in 1920, Cambridge University Press published an abridged edition of Poems, which contained some 45 of the shorter poems.

The first thing to note is that de C’s A Rubaiyat of the Trenches was published by the London firm of Fawcett & Co in 1917, before de Candole’s death, and not by Cambridge University Press, after his death. Furthermore, A Rubaiyat of the Trenches was not included in de Candole’s Poems of 1919, and nor was the example of de C’s “earlier verses…written during the earlier, numbing period of the War” and “intended as an appeal to one he idolized”, which verses are quoted in his friend’s Foreword to A Rubaiyat of the Trenches. (This is the poem beginning “We wanted a man” on p.7-9.) Thus, unless we are prepared to believe that Alec de Candole led something of a double-life, poetry-wise, we must conclude either a) that de C was not the same person as de Candole, despite the obvious temptations of the two being the same simply because de C is a contraction of de Candole, or that b) the de C poems were by de Candole, published under his own initiative before his death (unlikely, on stylistic grounds, as we shall see), but were among the poems omitted from the 1919 edition of Poems, which we know contained only “practically all his poems”. [As regards a), oddly enough, at the bottom of pages 1, 17, 33, 49 etc of Faith of a Subaltern – that is, at 16 page intervals – we do find printed, in small letters, “DE  C. 1”,   “DE  C. 2”,  “DE  C. 3”,  “DE  C. 4” etc respectively, but these are simply – unless one is inclined to conspiracy theories – a means by which the printer and binder of the book could check that the pages ran in the correct sequence before actual publication.. Pages 1, 17, 33, 49 etc of both editions of Poems are similarly marked C. 1,  C. 2  , C. 3, respectively. This seems to have been a common device in the printing of books at this time – pages 1, 17, 33, 49 etc in de C’s book, for example, are marked A, B, C, D respectively.]

Furthermore, the second verse of the above-mentioned poem in the Foreword of de C’s book begins “We wanted a man / When the War began”, which rather suggests (though by no means implies) that whoever de C was, he was active at the beginning of the War, in August 1914, at which time Alec de Candole was still at school. Who was the man to whom this poem was addressed? He was most likely Lord Kitchener, who was appointed by Herbert Asquith as Secretary of State for War in August 1914. Kitchener’s appointment was enthusiastically welcomed by the general public, though it was regarded with some suspicion by his fellow members of the Cabinet. Though he seems to have remained a hero to the bulk of the general public as the war unfolded, his popularity in some quarters (again, mainly political) waned after what was seen as his misjudgements over the types of munitions needed in the trenches of the Western Front and the disastrous outcome in the campaign in the Dardanelles in 1915. The identification of de C’s “man” as Kitchener receives some confirmation from these lines in the opening verse: “We meant you to be / Unfettered and free, / Not a serf of the twenty-two.” The twenty two are the politicians in the War Cabinet whom de C saw as restricting Kitchener’s plans for political reasons. This did, in fact, happen – notably over conscription. Again, in his remarks after the poem, de C’s friend indicates that at the time of writing “the great man to whom it was addressed is no longer with us” (p.9-10). Kitchener was lost at sea when his ship was struck by a mine on the way to Russia, on 5th June 1916.

The best guide to de Candole’s religious outlook is, of course, The Faith of a Subaltern. Put simply, in de Candole’s view there can be no doubt that God exists; that God is Love; that Christ was Divine (he accepts as a fact the Resurrection, but has reservations about the Virgin Birth); and that there must be an afterlife whose rewards make redress for the injustices and sufferings of this life. If there was no afterlife, he says, the happiest man in this life would be the successful criminal. (p.68) De Candole believed that the Church should follow the simple guidelines of Christ’s teachings – love and tolerance – rather than adhere rigidly to tradition and the dictates of dogma, which so often lead to the cruel persecution of one sect by another. Such persecutions not only contradict Christ’s teachings, they also run up against the basic Love of God. We shall look at some more of his beliefs presently, but enough has been said thus far to make it clear that de Candole was what we today would call a devout liberal Christian.

So, what of de Candole’s poems? (In what follows, page numbers will refer to the 1919 edition.) Let us first look at how his faith shows through. His poem “Salisbury Cathedral” (p.106) was written near Salisbury on December 27th 1917, after he had already seen action and been wounded. It is worth quoting in full:

I prayed here when I faced the future first
Of war and death, that God would grant me power
To serve Him truly, and through best and worst
He would protect and guide me every hour.
And He has heard my prayer, and led me still
Through purging war's grim wondrous revelation
Of fear and courage, death and life, until
I kneel again in solemn adoration
Before Him here, and still black clouds before
Threat as did those which now passed through are bright;
Therefore, with hope and prayer and praise, once more
I worship Him, and ask that with His might
He still would lead, and I with utter faith
Follow, through life or sharpest pain or death.

For de Candole God is his shield in War (p.63-4) and he writes of celebrating mass in a barn amidst the sound of gunfire (p.74). War is “the grim stepmother of all” and yet “faith is ours through all” (p.146-7). He had nothing bad to say about priests in the context of the War: any criticism of them was in Faith of a Subaltern, and was on account of the dogmatic intolerance of some of them for the practices of other Christian denominations. He did not, like de C (as quoted in chapter 13 of the main essay) rail against the ineffectiveness of the priests on both sides in the trenches. Not that de C was a disillusioned atheist. On the contrary, in the Foreword to A Rubaiyat of the Trenches, his friend writes of de C:

The poet is sincerely religious. His religion is simple, and summed up in the words, ‘God is Love.’ In one of his letters to me he writes –

I should have no hesitation in destroying the Church, where I feel that it is hiding Christ.’

This language is, of course, metaphorical, and I think A Rubaiyat of the Trenches will best explain it.”

Thus, in some things, de C is not as far removed from de Candole as one might think when first comparing A Rubaiyat of the Trenches with, say, the above quoted poem “Salisbury Cathedral”. Indeed, de Candole wrote the following distinctly Omarian lines in May-June 1916 (p.19):

A little shadow on a summer’s day
Cast by a cloud, at once to pass away,
Such is man’s life: and once departed hence,
Whither he goeth, who, ah! who shall say?
A little moment only shall we last,
And Death with stealthy foot approaches fast;
Ah! seize the pleasures of the passing hour,
For soon, too soon, all pleasures shall be past!

Again, de Candole in Poems (p.60-61) translates an ode of Horace (Book 2, ode 14), putting it into the metre and rhyming pattern of FitzGerald. It is dated March 26th 1917. Here is the opening verse:

Alack, the years fly by to greet the past,
Nor all thy piety can hold the vast
Threatenings of wrinkled age, nor stay the hand
Of death inevitable that cometh fast.

The phrase “nor all thy piety” certainly recalls verse 51 of FitzGerald’s first edition (“nor all thy piety nor wit etc”), though, as we shall see in a moment, de Candole seems to have had a copy of the second edition, where the phrasing is slightly different (verse 76: “nor all your piety nor wit etc.”)

In Faith of a Subaltern de Candole quotes FitzGerald twice – specifically the second edition. On the first occasion (p.63) he quotes verses 84-86 in respect of Original Sin. But he quotes Omar not because of any doubting of God, but because he does not believe that God would punish mankind “for a debt he never did contract.” On the second occasion (p.67) he quotes verse 80. But de Candole is not urging us to drink because today is all we have, so we may as well enjoy it. Quite the contrary. He is saying that if there is no Afterlife, then Omar’s view would make sense, but it is the fact (as de Candole sees it) of an Afterlife which nullifies Omar’s shallow view of things.

Two further examples of De Candole’s poetry are worth mentioning here. The first, written on All Hallows’ Eve, 1917 (p.87-91) is a lengthy poem whose Greek title means “Of whom the world was not worthy”, this being a direct quote from Hebrews 11.38 in the Greek Septuagint. Its opening line gives a good indication of its contents: “I saw in dreams the mighty band of saints”. The band includes, in order of priority, the Virgin Mary (“blest to all eternity”), St. Peter, the Four Evangelists, the Twelve Apostles, “they who suffered torture, pain and death / by stone or rack or stake or wheel or sword”, St. Francis of Assisi, Old Testament characters like Moses and King David, “and many millions more, to earth unknown, / who lived in Jesus, and in Him have died.” Also present, incidentally, are Socrates, Plato, Virgil, Lucretius and Marcus Aurelius, each of whom sought the truth in their own way, and in the vision have found enlightenment at last through Christ. The poem finishes with an injunction to, “Cease not to praise, adore and love for evermore.” This, then, is the poem of a very pious young man.

The second poem, written in February 1918 (p.118-124) seems at first glance to be of a very different nature. It is a lengthy poem entitled “The Old Priest”, and for the most part consists of an old priest of the pagan religion of Ancient Greece berating a young man who has adopted the Christian faith (“this new superstition…this new fancy of unsettled minds.”) But after the old priest has finished his tirade, de Candole writes:

And still methinks such words as these are heard,
Rebuking souls sincere that dare reject
Hard man-made dogmas that their conscience hates,

In other words, de Candole uses the intolerance of the old pagan priest to model the occasional intolerance of one denomination for another within the Christian Church itself.

Moving back to The Faith of a Subaltern now, let us look at de Candole’s views on the War, and how it can be reconciled to the existence of a God of Love:

“Take this present War. It has come as a grand text to those who want to disprove God's benevolence or His existence. "Look at this," they say, "the barbarities, the horrors, the pain and the waste and death, the slaughter of innocents, the torture of those who did no harm, the death of so many who might have done much for the world. Consider these facts, and say, if you dare, that God, if He exists at all, is love!" But was it God after all, that caused this War? Or was it man? Can you put down to God the national jealousies and rivalries and suspicions and greedinesses that were the seed that has burst into this poisonous and flaming flower of death? You serve evil, you love yourself, you strive against your neighbour, and when you find that you have brought disaster on yourself, you blame God for it! You ask for trouble, and when you get it you cry out on God.” (p.81)

De Candole goes on to say that the English can, of course, claim innocence, and blame the Germans – they started the War, not us. But even so, the War is still an Evil in the World, and God has allowed it. De Candole goes on:

“The problem has changed, and become, "Why if God is loving and just does He allow the innocent to suffer for the sins of the guilty?" For such is most undoubtedly the case on the earth. We are compelled to fall back on our principle of love. The whole human race – including the Germans – are one, and one member must suffer with and for another. It is inevitable. "What?" you say, "are we to love the Germans?" We must at any rate recognise that the Germans are men, as we are men. Men at the Front, who tend German wounded, and feed starving German prisoners, know this; the excess of hatred seems to be a luxury chiefly enjoyed at home. This recognition of kinship, however, does not preclude killing the enemy, if, as now, it is necessary. The view that it does, assumes that death is necessarily an evil and killing necessarily wrong. It may be impossible — as it is now — to stamp out the evil without killing the evil-doer; yes, and without killing those, too, whom we believe to be doing the work of evil, but who think themselves to be doing good, and who are as innocent of actually causing the War as we are. Killing may be a necessity, though an unfortunate one — the lesser of two evils.” (p.81-2)

This, of course, rather forgets about the innocent civilian casualties of War who get killed in the cross-fire. A little later, de Candole adds:

“The ultimate problem is really this: Why does God allow evil at all, if He really is loving? It is these objectors who take a sentimental view of love rather than we. Their idea of love is the foolish love of a mother who spoils her child. A wiser and nobler and stronger love is that which desires the loved ones' highest good; and if this cannot be obtained without pain –well then, pain be it.” (p.82)

The deaths of the innocent, we must suppose, are all part of “the pain”. (Many of the issues involved here – the Problem of Evil – are discussed at some length in Appendix 2, and de Candole’s views are fairly typical ones in the field. These and others are detailed in section b below.)

Both de C and de Candole might have had faith, but De C’s Rubaiyat of the Trenches is altogether more biting as to what God allows, and it is for this reason mainly that it is difficult to see how the two men could have been one and the same. This can best be seen by quoting two extracts from de C, starting with verses 4-12:

Now in reflective mood I turn to thee
Who spoke the thoughts which were, and aye shall be:
For in the trench we on ourselves rely
And only heed that which we hear and see.
For us are not the Parsons’ Heav’ns or Hells;
For if they do exist, the bursting shells
Will not by pray’r of Parson warded be,
And he who’s blotted out – he never tells.
They have their uses who can e’er deny!
Our Parsons marry, and their babies cry.
They pray for daily bread, but never fail
On favour and preferment to rely.
They have their worries and their space in life,
And each who fears his God, still fears his wife,
He gives advice abroad, but when at home –
‘Tis not to pray’r he looks to stem the strife.
For if high-pressure Parson’s man-power pray’r
Ascends to God and gets a welcome there,
Why all this maiming, wounds and blood, and death;
And why, above all other things, why War?
Effects of shell and cannon we can trace,
But never saving beam on soldier’s face
Through intercessionary plea or pray’r
From those who claim to have the ear of Grace.
How, if they know it, how can they persist
In mumbling out the old word-soothing list!
Why do they, then, dishonestly pretend?
Is it their answer, that they must exist?
‘Tis good as wine remember’d as a dream.
Or maiden’s smile above the bosom’s gleam,
To think that those across the No Man’s Land
Have just the self-same helpless pray’rful team.
Our God’s the same, but we are foes to-day,
Yet God’s our father, but not brothers they.
Friends yesterday, what will the years arrange?
God only knows, and not one Priest can say.

As I said above, the style and scathing nature of these verses are so very different to anything that de Candole wrote that it seems almost impossible to believe that de C and de Candole were one and the same person. Again, consider verses 77-81 of de C:

This nightmare War! The last, God let it be,
And ne’er again the World such horrors see.
I ask! I wish! I hope! Ah no, not hope:
There is no hope where promise is not free.
All miracles alleg’d in Sacred Writ,
Would meanly bear comparison to it,
If some Vice-Deo said: ‘Let all Wars cease,’
And freedom were the goal of human wit.
Who says that God was ever God of Peace!
Who blames on God the toll of blood’s increase!
Who maketh War? No war is made by God:
And God will ne’er decree that war shall cease.
Oh chaunting priests, your shaven muzzles hide;
You’re here with us, and with our foes abide;
Be brave for once, and of your minds take stock:
Admit that pray’rs are broomsticks to the tide.
Admit that good or evil, what we do
God ne’er directed, and He never knew:
Admit that War, if God were mov’d by pray’r,
Must mean but Murder of a destin’d crew.

What stands out most clearly here is that while de C and de Candole would have agreed that God is not responsible for War – only Man is – de C leaves it at that, with a brusque, “God didn’t start it, so why should he finish it” approach, whereas de Candole sees it as a loving God letting his children squabble that thereby they might learn the error of their ways, and grow in wisdom. De Candole would never have written the last two lines of de C’s verse 81 – that if prayers moved God to spare some in War, his letting others die would be tantamount to the murder of those for whom the pleas of prayer were ignored. Mainly, though, de Candole was never so scathing about priests and the ineffectiveness of their presence in War: he would never have referred to prayers as “broomsticks to the tide.” De Candole’s view of things is totally different. As he says in his poem “Salisbury Cathedral”, quoted above:

Therefore, with hope and prayer and praise, once more
I worship Him, and ask that with His might
He still would lead, and I with utter faith
Follow, through life or sharpest pain or death.

b) The cruel devastation and the blatant evils of the Great War, which had never happened on such a scale in any war before, were a test of faith to many. In a letter to Marion Scott written from the trenches in early September 1917 Ivor Gurney wrote:

“God should have done better for us than this: Could He not have found some better milder way of changing the Prussian (whom he made) than by the breaking of such beautiful souls?” (R.K.R. Thornton, Ivor Gurney: Collected Letters (1991), p.321.)

In an earlier letter to Scott, dated 21st (?) June 1916, he wrote of “the conviction that prayer is no use to me” (ib. p.101) and in his poem “Pain”, published in Severn and Somme (1917), he wrote of men and horses:

Dying in shell-holes both, slain by the mud.
Men broken, shrieking even to hear a gun.
Till pain grinds down, or lethargy numbs her,
The amazed heart cries angrily out on God.

Another war poet, Edward Thomas, who was killed in action in April 1917 aged 39, had similarly written in his poem February Afternoon, “And God still sits aloft in the array / That we have wrought him, stone-deaf and stone- blind.”

Sometimes doubt became cynicism. Thus, Siegfried Sassoon, in his poem Stand-to: Good Friday Morning, wrote from his post in the trenches: “O Jesus, send me a wound to-day, / And I’ll believe in Your bread and wine.” (A wound, of course, was a passport out of the trenches and back home to recuperate: it was thus often known as a “blighty wound”.)

Not surprisingly the Church felt it had to respond to the despondency and doubt expressed by so many, both at home, from those who had lost loved ones, and in the trenches, from those who had lost comrades and who faced imminent death themselves – to try and answer the simple question: Why had God allowed this horror, this evil, to happen? An interesting window on this theologically troubled period is provided by a collection of twelve sermons, delivered by prominent churchmen at the time, which can be found in the book Christ: and the World at War (1917), edited by Basil Mathews. This gives us a good overview not only of the ideas of the clergy themselves, but also of the questions and the accusations from the lay public with which they had to contend. Most notably, of course, was the question: how can you speak of an omnipotent and loving God in the face of all this? As Basil Mathews wrote in his Prologue to the book, “If the Christian Church has no voice here she can never have any voice anywhere.”

The Church’s answers contained several strands: if God just sorted out the War for us, it would turn Man into a mere puppet, which is not what God wants. God gave Man free will, and he must use it to find his own way out of the mess which he himself had created. And he must do it, of course, through Faith in the long term Providence of God, in the Love of Jesus, and in the belief that Good will ultimately triumph over Evil, harsh though that process might be in the short term. God was allowing the War to go on so that we should learn our lesson from it, and indeed, it was said, through this War many were actually re-discovering the spiritual bearings which they had lost in the overly materialistic and pleasure- seeking climate of the pre-War years. Changes were long overdue, and the moral evils of the War were shocking people into a new awareness of moral good. Indeed, it was deemed possible that the horrors of this War would finally convince mankind that war was the supreme evil that must never be allowed to happen again; that at long last, in words of the prophet Isaiah (2.4), men “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks,” and war shall be no more. (Unfortunately, of course, the Second World War put an end to that optimistic notion!)

There were other arguments, too. One was that that the War had happened partly because Europe was not sufficiently Christian, and in that respect the Church could be held accountable for not Christianising the world more effectively. A counter-argument to this, though, was that the Church was no more discredited by the War than is a doctor whose patient has died because he didn’t follow the doctor’s advice.

There was also the issue of the wholesale slaughter involved in the War, in direct contravention of the sixth commandment that, “Thou shalt not kill.” As might be expected, the argument offered by the clergy here was that the sixth commandment refers to murder – killing out of personal motives. Killing in self-defence is not murder, and should not be confused with it. As for a Christian fighting in the War, instead of turning the other cheek, that too was acceptable if the Christian was driven, as God himself is sometimes driven, to inflict punitive justice. There were more extreme minority views of things, too: Christ had shed his blood for the World, and allied troops were shedding their blood that thereby Christ’s great kingdom might come at last. And of course, the reward of the slain for their sacrifice was in Heaven. Indeed, some saw the War as the Battle against the Anti-Christ, with England used as a Weapon of the Lord against Satan. Another, patriotic, view was that England had seen off Napoleon, and in the same way it would see off the Kaiser!

One particularly interesting Christian viewpoint was quoted by the Bishop of Winchester, and came from a twenty-year old non-commissioned officer. “Amidst all that,” he told the Bishop, “the feeling grows that there must be a Supreme Being and that all this must mean something great, else all is moral chaos.” This, of course, is the polar opposite of the views expressed by Gurney, Thomas and Sassoon, quoted above.

c) Edward Heron-Allen, who needs no introduction to students of The Rubaiyat, left a journal of his experiences of the Great War, an excellent edited version of which was published by Brian W. Harvey and Carol Fitzgerald in 2002 under the title Edward Heron-Allen’s Journal of the Great War – from Sussex Shore to Flanders Fields. It contains various interesting comments relating to section b above. Thus, relating to the theme of Divine Intervention, he wrote, on the 5th of August 1918:

“I have kept the ‘Forms of Prayer and Thanksgiving to Almighty God, to be used on Sunday the fourth of August 1918, etc’ used in all the churches in England yesterday. There is a widely growing impression that if God could stop this war he is – like the Americans – putting off the moment of his intervention somewhat unduly.” (p.205)

Another comment relates to the issue of the efficacy of prayer in war. On the 17th February 1918, he had attended a church service for the military at which the prayers, delivered by “our own padre”, he described thus:

“His prayers were quaintly egotistical; he prayed for protection of the troops ‘especially (!) of these two regiments’ and prayed God to touch the hearts of the Germans ‘if that be possible.’ The prayer ‘Give peace in our time, Oh Lord!’ seems to me rather out of place. It did not seem to produce much effect before the war, and now it sounds sarcastic. In our time! well – it doesn’t look like it at present, but it seems a pity to rub it in and throw any doubts upon the idea.” (p.164)

Not directly relevant to section b above, but nevertheless of great interest, is Heron-Allen’s reference to a debate which had actually started well before the war, but which took on a renewed significance with the actual onset of the war. This was the debate about whether or not warfare was a manifestation of Darwinian “survival of the fittest”, which survival process had, of course, been set in motion by God himself. Writing in his journal on the 27th February 1915, he said this:

“Yesterday my friend Dr Chalmers Mitchell, FRS, Secretary of the Zoological Society, finished a set of three lectures at the Royal Institution in Albemarle St. on ‘Evolution and the War’. He is a remarkably fine and fluent speaker, and his lectures were wonderfully lucid and thought out, dealing with the evolution of the German race and their psychology. They were designed as an answer to the widely published German argument that this war is an instance of the Darwinian theory of the ‘survival of the fittest’, and that only by ‘blood and iron’ to quote Bismarck, can nations progress to their full and destined development. A ghastly theory and Mitchell dealt with it in a most masterly manner.” (p.47)

For those interested, Mitchell published his lectures in book form, still under the title Evolution and the War, later in 1915. For a good account of his work and the evolutionary war debate generally, see D.P. Crook, “Peter Chalmers Mitchell and Antiwar Evolutionism in Britain during the Great War” in Journal of the History of Biology, vol.22, no.2 (Summer 1989), p.325–356.


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