A Rubaiyat of the Trenches: who was de C ?

Some introductory remarks may be in order. A Rubaiyat of the Trenches was a biting anti–War parody of FitzGerald published in London in 1917. Its author was named only as “de C”, and two candidates have been proposed for his identity – William Edward Clery (or de Clery as he sometimes styled himself) and Alec de Candole – both names neatly abbreviating to “de C”, of course. This essay investigates the merits of both, and along the way looks at the religious doubts which arose as a result of the horrors of the Great War, one manifestation of which was A Rubaiyat of the Trenches. First, then, who was William Edward Clery ?

William Edward Clery (1861–1931)

Clery (1) was born in Ireland in 1861, though it is not known where. He moved with his family to London in 1877, bringing with him, as he put it, little more than his brogue. There was clearly some ambiguity in the spelling his surname, for in the Census Return of 1881 he is recorded as Wm. Ed. Cleary, age 19, living with his parents John Cleary (age 73) and Helen Cleary (age 68) at 4 Flying Horse Yard, Newington, Southwark St. Saviour, London. His occupation is given as “Sorter, ‘G.P.O.’” In 1888 he passed the civil service exam and became a sorter at the Chief Post Office in St. Martin’s–le–Grand in the City of London. Thus we find him, in the 1891 Census as William E. Clary (sic), living as a boarder at 1 Gerard Street, Islington, London, his occupation being now listed as “1st Class Sorter G.P.O.” However, according to G.H. Stuart–Bunning (1a), he hated the Post Office and the drudgery of his work, which makes what follows all the more intriguing!

By 1889 Clery had become involved in Post Office Workers’ Union activity. Basically, Clery argued that the employment conditions of the London sorters should be improved in accordance with an as yet unimplemented promise of Gladstone’s postmaster–general, Henry Fawcett (1833–1884). Unfortunately, Henry Raikes, Fawcett’s successor in 1886, was not so liberally inclined, and when Clery published An Exposition of the Fawcett Scheme in 1889, he was summoned to appear before Raikes, though he was not at this stage dismissed from his job. Indeed, Clery thought the interview went quite well, though nothing changed as a result of it. In February 1890, the Fawcett Association (FA) was formed, with Clery as its secretary, and the first number of its sorters’ journal The Post appeared, with Clery as its editor (2). In July 1890 there was a strike by London postmen, though Clery and the sorters of the FA did not participate in it. Some 400 postmen lost their jobs as a result of the strike, and nothing much seems to have changed until July 1892 when Clery urged FA members to lobby the candidates in the upcoming general election. When the Conservatives were defeated – the defeat involving the then Postmaster General Sir James Fergusson (Raikes’ successor) – union lobbying of parliamentary candidates, which was technically against Post Office Rules anyway, was seen as too much of a threat to the status quo, and Fergusson dismissed Clery and his union colleague W.B. Cheesman. Both men, however, promptly became full-time officials of the FA, Clery as its Chairman and Cheeseman as its Secretary.

A photograph of Clery, taken at an unknown date, which was published in The Post in 1930 (2), is shown in Fig.1.

The opening paragraph of Alan Clinton’s article about Clery in The Dictionary of Labour Biography (1b) is well worth quoting at this point:

If one man can be said to have ensured a place for trade unionism in the Post Office, it was W.E. Clery. There had been many other ‘agitators’ before him who sacrificed their jobs and their prospects. There were others after him who built the organisations and conducted the negotiations. But in the early 1890s it was Clery who had the flair and imagination to develop a campaign of parliamentary pressure and to turn the rather snobbish Post Office workers towards the wider trade union and labour movement. He was a man of great charm and eloquence who won the loyalty of the London sorters, but who squandered it most sadly and unnecessarily. He was a playwright, novelist, journalist and actor–manager of no mean achievement. His profligate life–style and his continual deception of himself and others, put him on a long slow decline after he parted company with the Fawcett Association in 1903. Yet he left behind the organisation and a magazine which survive, after various transformations, until the present day.

We shall have more to say of his profligate lifestyle and his deceits below, but meanwhile, as regards Clery’s appeal as a speaker, G.H. Stuart–Bunning gives a slightly different view in his obituary (1a):

His personal fascination was amazing. Men would go to meetings determined to oppose him and come away having agreed to all he proposed. They were not captivated by his eloquence, for he was not eloquent, but by his magnetism and force.

The above quote from Clinton, in a nutshell, is the tragedy of Clery – a gifted speaker and a charming man in many ways, but also something of a dishonest rogue and a ‘slippery eel.’ As we shall see, his shady dealings led to his death in poverty in 1931, his poverty being alleviated by a small allowance paid by the FA, seemingly drip–fed to him as he was so hopeless with money. (In Stuart–Bunning’s words, “he had no money sense at all.” (1a)) He had married an actress called Elvira (‘Elva’) Dearen, some 12 years his junior, in 1897, and how she fared through his sad decline is not known, particularly since she had a son, Herbert, by a previous relationship, born in 1895. She certainly survived her husband, dying (as Elvira Clery) at the age of 72 in 1945. His step–son (1c) also survived him, though he was to die young (as Herbert Fryers) at the age of only 51 in 1946. This brings us neatly to the next section.

Enter Austin Fryers

Clery began to write articles under the nom–de–plume of Austin Fryers (3) as early as 1888, publishing two articles in The Gentleman’s Magazine in that year: “About Some Orators” and “Food and Fancy” (4a).Other articles under the same pen–name subsequently appeared in Pearson’s Magazine (published by C. Arthur Pearson, whose name we will meet again) and it is well worth listing the titles of these as indicative of his wide range of interests. “Mountaineering in England”, “A One Man Play”, “Night Photography”, “The Lay Figure”, “Wire Walking” and “Insect v. Man” were published in 1898; “The Manufacture of New Flowers” and “Infant Prodigies” in 1899; and “Wonders in Wheat Growing” in 1900. (4b)

In October 1900 appeared the first issue of the monthly Crystal Palace Magazine. Published by the Crystal Palace Company, Austin Fryers was its editor. In his Foreword to this first issue he explained that, “Its primary object is to supply interesting articles and news on the principal items which from week to week constitute the Crystal Palace programme throughout the year.” (The Crystal Palace had, by this time, long been moved from the site of the Great Exhibition of 1851 to a new location at Sydenham Hill, where it remained until destroyed by fire in 1936. Sydenham Hill, as we shall see, just happens to be where Clery / Fryers was living at the time of the magazine’s appearance.) The magazine was, in effect, an advertising forum for the Crystal Palace – each issue carried detailed railway timetables of how to get there from any part of London, and a diary of forthcoming events. The magazine carried features on concerts, exhibitions, sporting events, pet shows etc, interspersed with competitions (guess how many people will enter the Crystal Palace this month – a prize of £10 for the closest guess); short stories (one, in the May 1901 issue, “The Probation of James Wrench,” was by Jerome K. Jerome); and articles (one, in the June 1901 issue, “The Story of Polo”, was by Fryers himself – another indication of his wide–ranging interests.) Fryers remained as the editor up until the issue of May 1902, after which Will E. Hooper took over, for reasons unknown. How long the magazine continued after that is not clear. Melvyn Harrison, of the Crystal Palace Foundation, tells me that it certainly ran up until 1907, and that it had almost certainly ceased publication by about 1910 as a result of the Company’s financial difficulties.

It was in the early 1890s that Clery, as Austin Fryers, began to write novels, plays and works about the theatre. His earliest work of fiction seems to have been his novel, A New Lady Audley (Swan Sonnenschein, London, 1891), which was written as a parodic sequel to Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s hugely popular three–volume novel Lady Audley’s Secret (1862). Its title–page is shown in Fig,2a, and it is particularly interesting here for its fly–leaf facsimile of a hand–written message from the author to the reader shown in Fig.2b. We shall return to this later. Meanwhile, this novel was followed by the novels A Pauper Millionaire (C. Arthur Pearson, London, 1899), The Devil and the Inventor (C. Arthur Pearson, London, 1900), A New Rip Van Winkle (R.A. Everett & Co., London, 1905) (5), The Man with the Opals (Ward Lock & Co., London, 1906 – this with A. W. Barrett), The Babylonian Diamond (R.A. Everett & Co., London, 1907), Purple and Homespun (Ward Lock & Co., London, 1909) and The Uncreated Man (John Ouseley, London, 1912). His works about the theatre include A Guide to the Stage (R.A. Everett & Co., London, 1904) and A Popular Life of Henry Irving (Charles Terry, London, 1906.)

A Guide to the Stage is of particular interest, its arresting cover being shown in Fig.3. It had an Introduction by Beerbohm Tree, whom Fryers knew through his membership of the Society of British Dramatic Art (p.67). As he explains early in the book, “It is...with considerable experience as a dramatic author, stage–manager, manager, actor and dramatic critic that I set myself to compile this plain, unvarnished, practical guide to the stage.” (p.3) Thus he gives advice to young women actresses on theatrical lodgings when on tour (p.47ff) and devotes a chapter (actually written by W. Clarkson) to the intricacies of stage make–up (p.71ff). Again, as regards booking venues, he advises his readers to beware of the name “Theatre Royal”, for though it may sound grand in theory, in practice it can all too often turn out be little more than a wooden shed (p.39.) And for those contemplating a career on the stage, he warns his readers against the “bogus manager” who fails to pay his company: “the trackless deserts of the drama are strewn with the bones of the unwary,” he tells us (p.41.) Unfortunately, as we shall see, Austin Fryers was not always squeaky clean himself, at one point ending up on the Black List of the Actors’ Association! In the meantime, A Guide to the Stage tells us how William Edward Clery first became enthralled by the stage:

How well I remember, as a child, the delightful throb of excitement that shot through me if, passing through some side street off the Strand, I saw “STAGE DOOR” written over the lamp of some small dark orifice. It represented to me the unknown, the unexplored; and so, even now, I have some hesitation in divulging the secrets I have since mastered. (p.82–3)

But to return to Clery’s life, also worth mentioning at this point is that in 1898 “Clery, William Edward (Austin Fryers)” was initiated as a Freemason, fittingly as a member of Playgoers Lodge in London. Plus, in the USA in July 1902, “Austin Fryers, of Sydenham, England” registered, as part of letters patent no.704,626, a design for a “Pivotal Stage or Turn–Table.” Alas, it never seems to have made him any money.

Turning to his plays, now, Austin Fryers was a great fan of Heinrik Ibsen and what seems to have been his first play, Rosmer of Rosmersholm: a Drama in Four Acts (Swan Sonnenschein, London, 1891) had a plot suggested by Ibsen’s play Rosmersholm. A year later he wrote, and staged at the Globe Theatre in London, what we would now call a prequel to Ibsen’s Rosmersholm under the title Beata (6). Actually, Beata seems to have been a much altered version of Rosmer of Rosmersholm (7a). As Fryers put it, the dramatic incidents with which Ibsen’s play dealt had all happened prior to the rising of the curtain, so it made sense to give them a play to themselves (7b). (Beata was the wife of Johannes Rosmer, whose mansion was named Rosmersholm. She has committed suicide one year before the play Rosmersholm begins.) In 1929, at Maskelyne’s Theatre in London, Sir Frank Benson, recently appointed President of the Society of British Dramatic Art, presented an “Ibsen cycle” which included Rosmer of Rosmersholm, an adaptation by Fryers of Ibsen’s Ghosts, and, rather bizarrely, a play called Realities (6), which was a sequel to Ibsen’s Ghosts supposedly delivered to Fryers by the long–deceased Ibsen through an illiterate medium known as “Althos”. According to an article in The Portsmouth Evening News on 25 January 1929 (p.6, cols.1–2), Sir Frank Benson, an ardent spiritualist, who dubbed it “a great play by a great master” (referring to Ibsen, of course), felt “sure that its performance will be of great advantage to the cause of spiritualism.” He went on, “In Realities we have striking proof of the persistence of literary genius beyond the grave.” (7c) (Fig.4). (Though this production was in 1929, Realities, like his adaptation of Ibsen’s Ghosts, must have been written in or before 1917, and his version of Ghosts was certainly performed in 1917, as we shall see below.)

Backtracking in time, the following review of Fryers’ play The Radical Candidate (6) appeared in The Times on 31 October 1899:

The Crystal Palace is in many directions making efforts that deserve encouragement to attract visitors and win prosperity. But the latest attempt is not likely to do either. A “farcical comedy” was produced yesterday afternoon, which it is proposed to give daily until further notice. “Further notice,” we imagine, can hardly be far off. Mr Austin Fryers, the author of The Radical Candidate, does not show that he has any idea of humour beyond noisy buffoonery, or any ability to construct a play. The company engaged – it includes Mr Harry Paulton – did not appear to advantage. But in such a piece it would be difficult for the cleverest players to act with any effect. It was a pleasant relief to turn from the theatre into the concert–hall and listen to the excellent music discoursed by the orchestra under the direction of Mr August Manns. (p.7, col.1)

That mention of the Crystal Palace, of course, foreshadows Fryers’ involvement with the Crystal Palace Magazine the following year, as mentioned above.

One other play by Fryers, which, like the above mentioned, seems not to have achieved any great popularity, was A Human Sport – a One Act Play (Samuel French, London, 1904). This short play of only twelve pages was one of many such published among French’s Acting Editions of Plays, seemingly aimed in part at smaller theatres, judging by the accompanying advertisements for affordable backdrop scenery! Other titles will be mentioned in what follows. Incidentally, “A One Man Play”, as published in Pearson’s Magazine in 1898, mentioned above, was not a play by Fryers, but an account by him of Signor Rino Pepi, a quick–change artist who played all seven characters, male and female, old and young, black and white, in the one–act play. The play itself was unremarkable, Fryers tells us, apart from its astonishing demonstration of the art of quick–change.

Trials and Tribulations

Clery seems to have been one of those people who are in and out of court like a yoyo, and the newspaper accounts of the various trials (usually with tribulations) tell us a great deal about him.

In May 1897 he appeared in the High Court of Justice, Chancery Division, in the case of George Edwardes v. Austin Fryers. Fryers was proposing to put on his play A Geisha Girl (advertised as “The New Japanese Comic Opera”) (6) and Edwardes sought to prevent him doing so on the grounds that it might be confused with his play, The Geisha. The case was apparently settled amicably because Fryers, who was judged not to have dishonest intent, agreed to change the title of his play (7d), though what he changed it to is not clear. We shall (perhaps) meet Mr Edwardes again later in less amicable circumstances.

In 1904 Clery was adjudged bankrupt on account of “rash and hazardous speculations”, partly connected with staging plays. He appeared in court in May 1911 hoping to be discharged, but having insufficient funds at the time of his application, his discharge was suspended for two years. (7e)

In July 1911, Clery was in court again, this time pursuing a Mr Edward Laurillard for non-repayment of a loan of £162. The Judge (the case was heard without a jury) concluded that there was no evidence that the loan had ever been made, and Clery lost the case. (7f)

In 1917, Fryers / Clery appeared at Bow Street Police Court, now giving his name as William Edward de Clery, “known professionally as Austin Fryers”. That “de Clery” will become more significant as we go along. He was prosecuting two men, Charles Bennett, “a private in the London Rifle Brigade”, and George Edwards (= Edwardes of 1897 ?), who, together with three other men, had forced their way into his flat and assaulted him. The ‘heavies’ were there to support Edwards in his attempt to get Fryers to pay him some money which he claimed he was owed on account of the tour of a play which had fallen through. As there was no evidence of breaking and entering, and no evidence of assault against Bennett, he was discharged. Mr Edwards, however, was bound over to keep the peace for 12 months, and ordered to pay 5 guineas costs. (7g)

In 1917 two interesting advertisements appeared in the press. The first (Fig.5a) appeared in The Era on 6 June 1917 (p.7) and the second (Fig.5b) in The Stage on 9 August 1917 (p.23). Note the association with Frank Fawcett (another Fawcett) and the 122 Shaftesbury Avenue address. Both will become relevant in what follows.

In September 1919, in the case of Fryers v. Williams, Fryers applied for an injunction preventing Mr Jack Williams from performing the dramatic sketch A Sister to Assist ’Er. Fryers claimed that he had obtained sole rights to perform the sketch from Mr Frank Fawcett, who was acting on the authority of the widow of the author of the sketch (Figs.5a & 5b.) Apparently Fryers’ “sole rights” had come to an end in June 1919 but pending further investigations, Williams was instructed to keep records of all moneys received. (7h)

In November 1920, William Edward de Clery (note the “de” again), “lately carrying on business at the Empire Theatre, Southend” was conditionally discharged from bankruptcy. (7i)

In June 1923, William Edward Clery, without the de, appeared in the High Court of Justice, Kings Bench Division in the curious case of Clery v. Daily News Ltd and Another. The following is the first paragraph of a lengthy report which appeared in The Times on 1 June 1923:

This was an action for damages for libel brought by Mr William Edward Clery, author, dramatic critic, and journalist, of Denbigh Street, S.W., against the Daily News Limited, proprietors of the Star newspaper, and Mr Wilson Pope, its editor, because of an obituary notice concerning the plaintiff which was published in the Star on May 27, 1922. The plaintiff said that the words of which he complained were meant to imply that he was a thoroughly unworthy, dishonest, and fraudulent person; that he was an undischarged bankrupt; that the failure of certain publications with which he became associated was attributable to his inefficiency and lack of merit; that he had wilfully deceived his colleagues in the Fawcett Association and had been repudiated by them; and that he was a rogue and impostor and had committed a criminal offence. (p.5, col.3)

The defendants for their part said that the wording of their obituary was accurate, and that the only inaccurate thing in it was to say that Clery had died. The article reprinted the said obituary, from which it becomes clear, somewhat bizarrely, that his “criminal offence” occurred in 1904, when he was fined £4 for employing a valet without a licence! (As he told the judge at the time, “An Irishman in decent society, my Lord, can’t live without a valet”, and when accused of “defrauding tradesmen” he replied that he preferred to employ the phrase “using a protracted method of payment.”) Getting back to the 1926 trial, however, Clery feigned deafness, made claims of Royal Patronage to support his respectability, and made accusations of a newspaper conspiracy against him dating back to his union activities in 1892. He added that numerous applications for adjournment seem to have been made by the defendants in the hope that he would be run over by a bus in the meantime. To survive financially, he claimed, he had had to sell the rights to two of his works, and if he were to die, his wife would not get a penny from the rich purchasers (the defendants, who had the Cadbury millions behind them.) The judge was not sympathetic, pointing out that at least if he was run over by a bus, his wife might recover damages from the bus company. Laughter in court and hearing adjourned.

The case resumed the next day with Clery explaining that when he had used the words “Royal Patronage” on the previous day, he had really only meant that he had once given an address before Royalty (who exactly, he didn’t say) and that he had lectured for the Lord Roberts Fund, which was under the patronage of the King and Queen. (We shall meet the Lord Roberts Fund again later.) He further extended what he saw as the conspiracy against him to include the undermining of his Liberal Party candidacy for the Constituency of Deptford in the Election of 1903. (In actual fact, it was the scandal surrounding his mounting debts that led to both the end of his candidacy and his position at the FA (1b).) When asked if he had been bombarded with judgement summonses and writs, and had lived for years in an atmosphere of dishonoured cheques, he denied everything. (In fact it was all true.) When asked if he had any unpaid gas bills, he replied “Not a single one.” (It was a lie, or at least, a severe bending of the truth.) The trial then moved on to Clery’s dubious part in a Mr Kennedy’s Dental Aid Society, this involving defrauding both Mr Kennedy and a Princess Marie Louise, Duchess of Seville, whom Clery had introduced to the scheme (as Royal Patronage ?) The report of the trial in The Times on 2 June 1923 went on:

The plaintiff admitted that there had been a number of county court judgements against him. He was told that his name was placed on the Black List of the Actors’ Association as a man of whom artists should beware. He had been convicted and fined £100 for selling intoxicants in Southend. He had started the Alliance Housing Association. Three others were associated with him in that. (p.5, cols.1–2)

The Alliance Housing Association was a scheme into which members paid £5 2s 6d and received a bond for £5 on account of the loan which the Government was to make under its housing scheme. When the prosecution pointed out that all but two of the members had lost their money, Clery admitted it, but it blamed it on the Government. The prosecution noted that the motto of the Alliance was “Many can help one”, and asked Clery if he was the one who got the help out of the many ? (Laughter in court.) “I refuse to answer,” Clery answered. The case was adjourned until 5 June.

On 6 June 1923 The Times (p.5, col.2) reported on the third and final day of the trial. Clery attempted to soften the damning evidence of the Dental Aid Society and the Alliance Housing Association, all of which confirmed the Daily News’s ‘obituary’ allegation that he was “unable to keep straight.” The Prosecution asked the Jury if they really wanted him to keep on cross–examining “a man whose views on keeping straight have been thus expressed.” The Jury were unanimous in discrediting Clery's evidence in toto, and indicated that they didn’t need to hear any more. The case was lost, with costs. G.H. Stuart–Bunning (1a), who, in reference to this court case, began his obituary of Clery with “Clery is dead; really dead this time”, went on to say that though he might have lost the case, “it was never possible to get costs from Clery, and the paper was put to considerable expense.” A little later, Stuart–Bunning added:

I once ventured to remonstrate with him on an extravagance. “My dear fellow,” said he, “money is made to spend.” True enough, but Clery sometimes forgot whose money he was expending.

But perhaps the most revealing of Clery’s court appearances occurred in the case of Beecher v. Fryers in March 1929, this being reported at length in The Stage on 7 March 1929 (p.3). Edward Beecher, an actor, summonsed Fryers / Clery (he used de Clery in court when asked his real name) for the outstanding balance of £5 16s owed as remuneration for acting in two performances of two plays. (That the case was reported in The Stage, of course, recalls Clery’s appearance on the Black List of the Actors’ Association, as mentioned above. This trial also revealed that he was on Truth’s cautionary list of persons whom actors are not to trust.) Clery did his usual squirming act – it was technically illegal to pay actors for acting on a Sunday, he suffered from deafness, some relevant papers had been misplaced, and so forth, but his past came back to haunt him. Asked if he had twenty–five county court judgements registered against him, he said he didn’t know. Asked if they totalled something like £560, he replied, “I don’t know. I don’t remember all these things.” The Alliance Housing Association came up again, and when the going got hot, Clery accused the prosecution of merely “trying to create an atmosphere.” When the issue of the Daily News ‘obituary’ libel came up, Clery claimed he only lost that case through “a trick of legal procedure.” It was all rather sad. In the end, after much further claim and counter claim, Clery lost yet again.

Two years later, as we saw earlier, he died in poverty. How much he actually believed of his testimony in court, or whether he just thought he could bluff and obfuscate his way through, is not clear. “Clery has often been called a humbug.” Stuart–Bunning wrote (1a), “He was. He humbugged others because he humbugged himself through his colossal vanity.” His Clery / de Clery / Austin Fryers shenanigans certainly do raise questions. In the 1901 Census Return he appears as Austin Fryers, author. His wife is listed as Elva Fryers and Herbert Fryers is listed as his son (he was actually his step–son, as indicated earlier.) They are recorded as living at Kirklynton, Sydenham Hill Road, Lewisham, London. (Fig.6 – recall the Crystal Palace association above. The entry for Emily Perman reads “Wife’s Grand Mother / Widow.”) In the 1902 electoral register he is Clery, William E., of the same address, but in the 1903 electoral register he is back to Fryers, Austin, again of Sydenham Hill Road. For some unknown reason, neither he nor his family appear in the 1911 Census, either as Clery or Fryers, but in both the 1918 and 1919 electoral registers, Fryers, Austin is recorded as living at 122 Shaftsbury Avenue, the address given in Fig.5a. (His wife does not appear in any of the electoral registers just mentioned. But this may be because, though many women over 30 were given the vote in 1918, full voting rights to all women over 21 were not given until 1928.)

A Rubaiyat of the Trenches

A Rubaiyat of the Trenches by “de C” was published by Fawcett & Co., London, in 1917 (Fig.7). This is the third time that the name Fawcett has cropped up in this essay. In addition to Fawcett & Co., we have met Henry Fawcett, after whom the Fawcett Association was named; Frank Fawcett, as in Figs. 5a & 5b; and (the same Frank Fawcett) as involved in the case of Fryers v Williams in September 1919, mentioned above. But Fawcett is quite a common name, so all we have here could, at this stage, be merely a coincidence of names.

A Rubaiyat of the Trenches,, which consists of 100 verses, is a serious anti–War parody of FitzGerald, seemingly written, as its opening verse tells us, from “Here in the trenches.” Its basic message is one of religious skepticism, not as regards the existence of God, for the War is Man’s doing not God’s, but rather skepticism of the Church, for in every war, it seems, God is claimed to be on both sides, and the Priests for all their praying, seem powerless to avert the carnage. Thus verse 24 reads:

Ah, Omar, Pagan, art thou in the skies
A–laughing at what now beneath thee lies ?
God’s Will on our side, and God’s Will on theirs,
And Priests a–praying hard with upturn’d eyes.

And in verse 26:

Try: Try: Ye Priests, one miracle to bring
To stay one shell upon its deadly wing.
You mouth excuses. Were’t it a German shell:
The German Priests would hallelujahs sing.

And finally, verse 86, a verse of which Omar would surely have approved:

The War has prov’d that dogma is a fraud,
That manly worth alone is what to laud.
No fulminations clerical we dread;
’Tis by the shell and bullet we are aw’d.

Further verses will be quoted in what follows, and the foregoing will be enough for now to indicate the poem’s stance.

The poem is prefaced by “A Friend’s ‘Foreword’”, the identity of the Friend being as mysterious as that of de C. It begins:

This is the first important poem my friend “de C” has written. He sent it to me on odd scraps of paper from time to time, and my task has been to faithfully transcribe the finished copy for the printer. Coupled with the task was the responsibility of deciding, at my friend’s request, whether it should be offered to the Public, or, like many previous verses he had written, devoted to our own private entertainment. My friend thinks, as I do, that the possession of the faculty of literary expression should only be an incentive to entering the ranks of professional authorship when some public advantage either of pleasure or knowledge is likely to be the result. It was with considerable trepidation that I foresaw the almost inevitable incursion of his works into the public arena, for he is a man of strong and pronounced views whose unassailable sincerity ill befits him for the clash of contemporary controversy. An opinion with him is so sacred as to be sufficient justification for a holy war against its opponents. Were he a dabbler in abstract speculations or accepted views there would have been no cause for my anxiety, but owing to the fact that his enthusiasms are for the realities of his day I hesitated to encourage so original and sincere a thinker. Patriotism is, with him, a religion; and it seemed to me that in this the choice lay between politics and silence.

This tells us very little as regards identifying de C (or his Friend, for that matter!). But there are two copies of A Rubaiyat of the Trenches which have intriguing inscriptions in them.

The first copy, in the Harry Ransom Center, Austin, Texas, is inscribed, “To my very dear friend F. Joynsen–Powell with my best wishes from Austin Fryers (de C) Aug.1922.” (Fig.8a – compare the writing in Fig.2b) This, of course, suggests that de C was Clery, who, as we saw earlier, sometimes adopted the name de Clery, which would explain “de C”. But why would Clery sign a copy of A Rubaiyat of the Trenches with “Austin Fryers (de C)” rather than with “W.E. de Clery (de C)” (or similar), especially in a book inscribed to a “very dear friend”, who would therefore know who he really was ? We will look at this in more detail presently, but part of the answer must surely lie in Clery’s association with the stage as Austin Fryers – Frederick Joynsen–Powell (1856–1937) was a London–born actor, listed in the 1911 Census, age 50, as a “Dramatic Artist”, living with his wife and son at 2 Roman Road, Bedford Park, Chiswick, London. (His name, incidentally, appears to have been a stage–name, for he was born Joseph Frederick Powell.) He features in the list of actors – as F. Joynsen Powell – in the 1915 play–bill for the Theatre Royal, Leeds, shown in Fig.9, and, as we shall see later, in 1917 he appeared in Austin Fryers’ adaptation of Ibsen’s Ghosts at the Theatre Royal, Winchester. His main claim to fame, though, seems to be that he played the Judge in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1930 film “Murder!”

The second copy, in the Widener Library of Harvard University, is inscribed: “To H.S. Roggé with the kind regards of Austin Fryers (de C.) English adapter of Ibsens’s ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Realities’. London, October 1917.” (Fig.8b) Here, then, we have another use of the signature “Austin Fryers (de C)” in a stage context. As can be seen, the handwriting is the same as that in Figs.8a & 2b. Fryers’ adaptation of Ibsen’s Ghosts and his play Realities, the latter allegedly delivered by Ibsen from beyond the grave as a sequel to his Ghosts, were mentioned earlier as having been produced in London in 1929. But who was H.S.Roggé ? His identity is not clear – he was possibly Henrik von Schreuder Rogge (without the acute accent), who hailed from Bergen, Norway but is recorded in the English 1911 Census, age 45, as living, with his English wife, Annie Winifred, age 35, as a boarder at 99 Fordwych Road, Cricklewood, London. Unfortunately, the Profession / Occupation column of the form is blank, so we do not know if he had any connection with the stage. He seems to be the same person who shows up on a Norwegian genealogy web-site as Henrich Schreuder Rogge (1865–1939) – the birth year tallies – and who also hailed from Bergen. However his wife is there named as Susanne and his occupation is listed as Store Owner. Perhaps, then, he was a theatre enthusiast who had money, and Clery was always on the lookout for people like that! As to Rogge’s two wives, since he married Annie Winifred in England in 1909 when he was some 43 or 44 years old, Susanne (c.1865–c.1950) may well represent an earlier failed marriage back in Norway.

The inscriptions in these two copies have certainly led both libraries to attribute A Rubaiyat of the Trenches to Austin Fryers in their online catalogues, though neither library catalogue has extended that to W.E. Clery. However, in “The Persian Sensation”, an exhibition which ran at the Harry Ransom Center from 3 February to 2 August 2009 to mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a copy of A Rubaiyat of the Trenches was on display with this caption:

William Edward Clery, under the pseudonym “de C,” wrote this poem from the perspective of a British soldier. At times, the author invokes the name of Omar, a kindred spirit who would understand his concerns. The trenches become a backdrop for larger questions of human mortality, ethics, and the Christian concept of a “just” war fought in God’s name. In response to the senselessness of war, Clery pleads for a better future for humankind using the template of the Rubaiyat. Utterly detached from the concept of war, Omar’s philosophy presents a radically alternative way to live.

So the attribution A Rubaiyat of the Trenches to Clery is not new, and it is difficult to see, in view of the inscriptions by Fryers, how anyone other than Clery could have been de C, unless he was sharing some sort of elaborate private joke with the recipients, Joynsen–Powell and Roggé, separated in time by some five years. This last idea seems highly unlikely, to be sure. Nevertheless, it must be said that I have been unable to find any direct, unequivocal, documentary evidence of Clery’s authorship as it is suggested by the two inscribed copies just mentioned. Among the various works of Austin Fryers mentioned in the course of the above, there are no poetic works (8), but then that would fit in with what de C’s Friend said in his Foreword about all of his previous poems being “devoted to our own private entertainment.” Again, all of Fryers’ books pre–date 1912, and so A Rubaiyat of the Trenches is not just an odd one out, it is a late one as well. There is much still to be explained, but even so, it is suggestive that in court in 1917, the year in which A Rubaiyat of the Trenches was published, Clery was styling himself de Clery, which neatly abbreviates to de C.

As regards Clery using the name Austin Fryers in these inscriptions, one wonders, given his use of Fryers in the census return & electoral registers mentioned above, if he had almost come to live as Austin Fryers and somehow pushed his real name / identity into the background ? It is not illegal in English Law to use an assumed name, and it only becomes illegal if you commit a crime using that name. Nevertheless it is curious to say the least to find not only Clery himself but his wife and step–son using the name Fryers in the Census of 1901, as noted above. A comment in Stuart–Bunning’s obituary (1a) is perhaps our best guide to Clery’s ‘split personality’ and it relates to his association with the Post Office, his disdain for which was mentioned earlier: “One proof of his dislike of the Post Office is, that when years ago I addressed him as Clery, he asked me to call him Fryers, for Clery was associated with damnable servitude.” One wonders, therefore, how and why he came to write his “Memories”, under the name Clery, for The Post in 1930 (2). But then he was writing about Clery the union agitator, and perhaps in writing A Rubaiyat of the Trenches under the name de C, he was being another form of agitator.

The Publisher

As for its publisher, Fawcett & Co., 125, Strand, London W.C.2, they had earlier, in 1915, published The Lord Roberts Memorial Fund Stamp Album. Its front cover is shown in Fig.10a, and its title page in Fig.10b. This was one part of a scheme, launched early in 1915 (9a), to raise money for disabled soldiers and seamen. In the case of the Album, which, though undated, did first appear in 1915 (9b), collectors bought stamps depicting the portraits of famous people involved in the Great War (there were 144 such stamps in all, priced at 1d each), these being duly stuck into the album. The albums were available in three differently coloured grades, red, khaki, and blue & gold, priced at 1/6, 2/6 and 5/- respectively (9c) The money thus raised, of course, went into the fund for disabled servicemen. A sample page, with stamps in place, is shown in Fig.10c (note the youthful Winston Churchill) and a page of an undated promotional leaflet, with sample stamp, is shown in Fig.10d. As we saw earlier, Clery said he was involved in the Lord Roberts Memorial Fund, in this case, one hopes, honestly. Here, then, is an albeit tenuous link between Clery and the publisher of A Rubaiyat of the Trenches. But there is no such publisher link for Austin Fryers: looking back over the publishers of his various books, listed above, whereas various names appear more than once, the name of Fawcett & Co is not among them.

What else did Fawcett & Co. publish and who was Fawcett? The company published only one other book that I am aware of: The Piccadilly Puritan, a novel by Gertie de S. Wentworth–James (Fig.11), undated, but published in 1917, according to contemporary book reviews and the accession date stamp of the copy in the British Library. Wentworth–James (1874–1933) was the author of numerous romantic novels, very popular in their day, issued by several different publishers from about 1909 and through to the 1920s – Everett & Co. and T. Werner Laurie were the two principal ones – both the novels mentioned in Fig.11, The Wild Widow (1908/9) and Golden Youth (1916/7), were published by the latter. (Most of her novels seem to have been undated, unfortunately.) But The Piccadilly Puritan seems to have been the only one published by Fawcett & Co., appearing bang in the middle of the author’s hectic literary career, and it is not clear why (10). Unfortunately, how or when the author came to be involved with Fawcett & Co. is not known at present. But aside from this, Fawcett & Co. seem to have published nothing else, unless the firm changed its name, as publishers so often do, of course. There have been several publishers named Fawcett – eg Woodford Fawcett & Co.; Fawcett, McQuire & Co.; and W.H. Fawcett – so one needs to tread warily in identifying the publishers of A Rubaiyat of the Trenches or in linking them either to the family of the late Postmaster–General, Henry Fawcett (tempting in connection with the Lord Roberts Stamp Album) or to Frank Fawcett of Figs.5a & 5b.

It doesn’t help that the publishers are named in Figs.7, 10b & 11 simply as “Fawcett & Co,” with no initial or Christian name preceding the Fawcett, but fortunately a Publishers’ Announcement in the Pall Mall Gazette for 21 June 1917 (p.6, col.5) unmistakeably names Frank Fawcett (Fig.12). But is this the same Frank Fawcett as in Figs.5a & 5b ? Plus, there certainly was a publisher named Frank Fawcett, active in the 1890s. How does he fit in ?

This Frank Fawcett was born in Driffield, Yorkshire in 1861, the son of Benjamin and Martha Fawcett. Benjamin Fawcett was a noted printer and publisher, the 1881 census return listing him as “Printer (master employing 18 men, 5 boys and 15 girls).” Frank, however, is not employed in the firm – he is listed as a banker’s clerk. In 1890 in Sculcoates, Hull, he married a Swiss woman called Lydia Jenny L. Wasser, and in the 1891 census the couple are recorded as living in Driffield, with their young son, Cyril Bernard Fawcett. Frank is now listed as “Bank Cashier”.

In January 1893 Benjamin Fawcett died (7j), leaving an overdraft of £672 8s 6d (9c) at the very bank where his son worked (7k). This was a considerable sum in those days. Frank sought to carry on the family business, but by December of that year the overdraft had increased to £1124 (7l). There is some confusion as to the figures quoted, the account of (7k) differing from that of (7l) in saying that by December 1893 Frank had succeeded in decreasing the overdraft to £323 14s, but the higher figure seems more likely, as the firm was facing closure if not bankruptcy (which in the end did happen.) (7m) Both accounts agree that in trying to salvage the situation Frank promised to assign to the bank as security, books then in the hands of Messrs Gibbings, wholesale booksellers, of London, valued at £232 according to (7k). But what were those books in the possession of Messrs Gibbings of London ?

Some possibilities present themselves: in 1888 or 1889 Scarborough Past and Present by J. Dennis Hood was published by “Frank Fawcett, Driffield” and printed, of course, by his father’s firm. Its title page is shown in Fig.13a and among the numerous adverts at the back of the book appeared one for his father’s firm, shown in Fig.13b. Also, in 1892 Frank Fawcett published another work by J. Dennis Hood, Waterspouts on the Yorkshire Wolds: Cataclysm at Langtoft and Driffield (an account of the disastrous storm damage in July 1892) and, in 1893 there appeared a reprint of Poetical Sketches of Scarborough in 1813, again under the imprint of “Frank Fawcett, Driffield.” The foregoing were in effect books of local Yorkshire interest, though the first was clearly aimed at the tourist market, and so could well have found buyers in all parts of England. (In fact it seems to have been one of a projected series, as it contains the listing shown here as Fig.13c, though it is not clear if any of the others was ever actually published.) On a totally different front, Frank Fawcett published The Cricket Annual 1892. Edited by William Dewar, and containing an essay by him on the history of the game, it also contained a short article on “Cricket as a Sport” by no less a celebrity than W.G. Grace. Its title page is shown as Fig.14, and from this we see that its publication was shared with Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co. Ltd. in London. Thus, though Frank Fawcett was based in Yorkshire, in the early 1890s he had connections with a prominent London publisher and with the London booksellers, Messrs Gibbings.

The Scarborough connection in the above is interesting, for at the time of the 1901 census, Frank is listed as a boarder at a house in Scarborough, his occupation now being listed as “Agent (Book Publishing)”, in which role he is not an employee, but what we would now called self–employed (“own account” on the census return.) His wife and son Cyril – now having been joined by another son, Frank D. Fawcett, and a daughter, Margie W. Fawcett – are living at Sculcoates, Hull. (It would appear that Frank was away from home on business at the time of the 1901 census.)

So, by 1901 Frank Fawcett was a book publishing agent, though not it seems a publisher as such, since all the foregoing books were published in the early 1890s. However, by the time of the 1911 census, Frank, his wife, and three children have moved to West Norwood in London, Frank being listed as “Fine Art Publisher.” Quite what he published, be it books or prints, is not clear, but it would appear that in 1912 he went bankrupt (7n).

So, is this the Frank Fawcett behind the Fawcett & Co. of A Rubaiyat of the Trenches as named in Fig.12, and might he also be the Frank Fawcett of Figs.5a & 5b? There would certainly have been an incentive for him to publish A Rubaiyat of the Trenches in 1917 and to support the Lord Roberts Memorial Fund, as his son, Frank D. Fawcett, had enlisted in the army in January 1916, and went to serve on the Western Front. He was discharged two years later, having been wounded, and was subsequently awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal. He was eventually to become a journalist and the author of numerous works of fiction. (It is not clear whether or not Clery’s step–son, Herbert, served during the war, unless his name was mis–spelt and he was the Herbert Clary of the London Rifles.)

Living in London from 1911, being involved in publishing, and being much the same age as Clery, it is quite possible that Frank Fawcett and Austin Fryers got to know each other and struck up a partnership if not a friendship. It is a long–shot, to be sure, but I wonder if Fawcett & Co. consisted of Frank Fawcett and Austin Fryers (the same partnership as in Figs.5a & 5b), and if the Friend who wrote the Foreword to A Rubaiyat of the Trenches was none other than Frank Fawcett himself ?

Supportive of this, in part, is the newspaper clip from The Stage of 30 August 1917 shown here as Fig.15. It brings us back to Messrs Fawcett & Fryers of 122 Shaftsbury Avenue, London W.1 (Figs.5a & 5b – both adverts also dating from 1917, remember) and in particular to Fryers’ adaptation of Ibsen’s Ghosts (Fig.5b). It features F. Joynsen–Powell’s part in it as “Pastor Manders” (he of Figs 8a & 9); it features Fryers’ play Realities, “the literary sensation of the day” (mentioned above (Fig.4), but here “full details will be announced in due course”); and here again is that “great success”, A Sister to Assist ’Er (Fig.5a.) But note that tiny paragraph devoted to Ghosts, which “will be published next week by Fawcett & Co., 125 Strand. Price 1s; by post 1s 3d (9c).” Alas, it seems never to have been published, or if it was, I have been unable to locate a copy. But two different Frank Fawcetts in one advert ? Possible – but I doubt it.

The Reviews

A Rubaiyat of the Trenches was reviewed in The Belfast News–Letter on 9 July 1917. The review is worth quoting in full:

This poem is written in the metre and largely in the spirit of Edward FitzGerald’s famous translation of Omar Khayyam. The writer is at the Front, and his verses are reflections on the war. He is evidently a young man of intellect and of much thought. Very many of the sentiments expressed are in direct opposition to the teachings of Christianity, although in an unsigned “Foreword” written by a friend he is stated to be “sincerely religious.” The fact is evident that the great mystery of pain and the existence of evil have proved too powerful for his limited conception of justice, and he ventures to arraign the teachers and ministers of religion as deceivers. Argument with a person on this frame of mind would be of little use. The book, however, is liable injuriously to affect unstable minds. It has no outstanding merit as poetry, although it certainly shows very decided promise in a young writer. It is not a difficult matter for a person with a correct ear to catch the swing of FitzGerald’s wonderful metre. The mockingbird is not a songster, though able to imitate the notes of all other birds. The soldier poet may and probably will, if he is spared, give the public something original. Meantime a study of his Bible would be better than indulging in carping remarks on its exponents.

The review tells us that the author was “a young man of intellect” and that he was “at the Front”. So far as is known, Clery never served in the trenches – in 1917 he was in his mid fifties, not a young man at all, and indeed too old to serve at the Front (11). But the reviewer may well be making assumptions based on the poem, the second line of whose opening verse begins, as quoted earlier, “Here in the trenches.” (Likewise in verse 4: “For in the trench we on ourselves rely.”) If the author of the poem was writing on the basis of horrific contemporary newspaper reports rather than actual experience, that may have led to the assumption that he was at the Front and therefore young. Certainly there is nothing in the poem or in the Foreword to indicate that the author was young. It is worth noting, however, that the blurb in Fig.12 does list this “Poem of the Day” as “A human document from the front”, and if Clery was indeed the author, this has to be regarded as publisher’s hype.

Note too the review’s criticism of de C’s “direct opposition to the teachings of Christianity”; his lack of understanding of “the great mystery of pain and the existence of evil” with its resultant arraignment of “the teachers and ministers of religion as deceivers”; and that “the book...is liable injuriously to affect unstable minds.” This last, of course, is tantamount to saying that the book might prove dangerous as anti–War propaganda. Take, for example, verse 8:

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 ?

In other words, why doesn’t the God of Love respond to the prayers of his earthly representatives and stop all this brutality and carnage ? The Great War led to much theological debate, and the loss of Faith for many (12). For those of wavering faith, the likes of verse 5 might be dangerous:

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.

We may have here a possible explanation of why (de) Clery (assuming he was de C) used the pen–name de C for A Rubaiyat of the Trenches, rather than Austin Fryers: did he fear that his literary reputation as Austin Fryers might suffer from the possible controversy stirred up his Rubaiyat ? Might he have feared yet more appearances in court for blasphemy and even treason ? Or is it perhaps, as mooted earlier, a disguised reversion to (de) Clery “the agitator” ?

Incidentally, the book appears not to have been widely reviewed, and not all reviews were hostile. A reviewer in The Western Morning News of 27 July 1917, for example, wrote that, “With the substance of the poem we are much in sympathy; the thought is original, the writer’s ear rarely fails, and the vocabulary is large...”, adding, in something of a down–turn, “with such gifts ‘de C’ should do more work, and of better value.”

If William Edward Clery aka Austin Fryers did indeed write A Rubaiyat of the Trenches, then he did no more work, of better value or otherwise, for Austin Fryers appears to have exited the stage at this point, never to return, except as W.E. Clery when he published his “Memories” in The Post in 1930 (2).

But another candidate for the identity of de C has been proposed, and it is to him that we now turn.

Enter Alec de Candole

The late Jos Biegstraaten, in his article “Omar with a Smile”, published in Persica 20 (2005), p.1–37, assumed, or at least stated without proof or references, that de C was the minor war poet Alec de Candole (p.15), who was killed in action in September 1918. His identification was subsequently quoted by Parvin Loloi in Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: Popularity and Neglect edited by Adrian Poole, Christine van Ruymbeke, William H. Martin and Sandra Mason (2011), p.219, and it is this source which shows up when searching online for information on A Rubaiyat of the Trenches. To be sure, this identification does at first seem plausible, given the obvious similarity of the names de C and de Candole, and it is probably following this online ‘lead’ that A Rubaiyat of the Trenches has been attributed to de Candole by several dealers with copies of the book for sale. But all is not what it seems.

Firstly, who was Alec de Candole ? His 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 Wiltshire 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 photograph of him shown in Fig.16 is its frontispiece.) 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 (13), 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”.

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 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, 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 are related to the perennial Problem of Evil – how can Evil exist in a world created by an omnipotently Good God – and de Candole’s views are fairly typical ones in the field. (12)

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.

It is perhaps not surprising, then, that Catherine W. Reilly’s English Poetry of the First World War – A Bibliography (1978), p.108, lists de Candole’s Poems (abridged 1920 edition) immediately below de C’s Rubaiyat without making any connection between the two.

De Candole’s poems have been put online by Robin Clay, whose wife Susan is a distant relative of the poet: her grandfather was the uncle of Alec de Candole. The poems, with some biographical details and a photograph of the soldier–poet’s grave, can be found at: http://www.spanglefish.com/alecdecandole/. I asked Robin if he had any family papers relating to the poet and his work, but unfortunately he didn’t. He told me that any such papers had passed to Alec’s sister–in–law, Frances Sophia de Candole (née Cornwall), who died in 1976. Family tradition has it that she passed on to her family (ie the Cornwalls, since her husband had died in 1971 and they had no children) anything “worth having”, and the rest was “just dumped.” As Robin has no contact with that distant branch of the family, nothing further is known at present. Certainly, neither Robin nor his wife has ever heard of A Rubaiyat of the Trenches, though of course that in itself is not proof of anything.

I should conclude by saying that back in 2013 I had several email exchanges with Jos Biegstraaten about his identification of de C as Alec de Candole. Jos admitted that he had not found any firm evidence for it, but that de C = de Candole seemed a reasonable assumption given the nature of A Rubaiyat of the Trenches and the fact that de Candole was a war poet. Having read an earlier version of the foregoing, however, he wrote, “I agree with you that it is not likely that De Candole wrote ‘the Trenches’” (Email of 27 June 2013.)


I have devoted quite some space to de Candole because he is the only other candidate ever suggested (to my knowledge, at any rate) for the authorship of A Rubaiyat of the Trenches. With him off the stage, as it were, that leaves only William Edward Clery, aka Austin Fryers, in the spotlight. Though there is as yet no direct unequivocal evidence that Clery was de C, all the circumstantial evidence points to him, most notably those gift inscriptions in Figs.8a & 8b, of course.


Note 1. I have used here a) the obituary “W.E. Clery” by G.H. Stuart–Bunning, published in The Post, November 7, 1931 (p.441); b) Alan Clinton’s article on Clery in The Dictionary of Labour Biography, edited by Joyce M. Bellamy and John Saville (1984), vol.7, p.55–8; and c) the rather shorter article, also by Clinton, in the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2006).

Note 2. In The Post in 1930, under the general heading “Memories”, Clery published a six–part account of his early union activities: “I – How I became an ‘Agitator’” (August 16, 1930, p.159; “II – My First Meeting with Mr Raikes” (August 23, 1930, p.182); “III – How Outside Meetings were Secured” (August 30, 1930, p.202); “IV – The ‘Luminous’ Committee” (September 6, 1930, p.218); “V – The Fawcett Fiasco” (September 13, 1930, p.249); and “VI – Reinstatement by a Trick” (September 20, 1930, p.268.) Fig.1 is from the first of these articles.

Note 3. How Clery chose this pen–name is not known, but it is perhaps worth mentioning speculatively that Austin Fryers was certainly an old English rendering of Augustinian Friars, an Order which at first led a hermitic existence in remote places (like Clery’s early years in Ireland ?) but later tended to work for the people in towns and cities (like Clery’s union work in London ?) They ranked with the more famous Black Friars (Dominicans), Grey Friars (Franciscans) and White Friars (Carmelites.)

That Austin Fryers was W.E. Clery did not remain a secret for very long. As The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News put it on 22 October 1892: “The identity of Mr Austin Fryer (sic)...has now been revealed. He is, it seems, none other than Mr Clery the Post Office employé who got into trouble with the late Postmaster–General.” (p.217, col.3)

Note 4a. “About Some Orators” appeared in vol.264, p.503–10, and “Food and Fancy” in vol.265, p.301–5.

Note 4b. These can be found as follows: In vol.5 (Jan–June 1898), “Mountaineering in England” (p.241–6), “A One Man Play” (p.416–9) and “Night Photography” (p.578–581). In vol.6 (July–Dec 1898), “The Lay Figure” (p.93–7), “Wire Walking” (p.332–6) and “Insect v. Man” (p.466–472). In vol.7 (Jan–June 1899), “The Manufacture of New Flowers” (p.144–8) and “Infant Prodigies” (p.422–6). In vol.9 (Jan–June 1900), “Wonders in Wheat Growing” (p.66–71). Most of these titles explain the contents. Of those not self–explanatory, “A One Man Play” is covered in the main body of the article; “The Lay Figure” is basically a plug, with photographs, for the firm of Messrs Lechertier Barbe Ltd, manufacturers of “lay figures”, those jointed wooden models of people and animals used by artists to model poses; “Wire Walking” is basically a plug for a high–wire artist called Otto Menotti, with photographs courtesy of Messrs Brown, Barnes and Bell of Liverpool; and “Insect v. Man” consists of examples such as, “If a man in proportion to his size, were as strong as a flea, he could support two mounted soldiers and two infantry–men quite easily.”

Note 5. Mrs Alison’s Engagement: a Fantastic Love Story by Austin Fryers was also published by – or at least, printed for private circulation by – Everett & Co. at an unspecified date, but apparently in 1906. Only a single copy of this is known to me, and that is in the New York Public Library. According to the online catalogue notes: “Title corrected in ms by author to read “‘The Age to Marry’ (abridged)”.” The cover is marked: “Printed for Private Circulation only.”

Note 6. No copy listed on either Jisc Library Hub (formerly COPAC) or WorldCat.

Note 7. a) The Globe, 20 April 1892, p.6, col.5; b) The Times, 20 April 1892,. p.7, col.5; c) A shorter account appeared in The Times 17 January 1929, p.10, col.2; d) The Times 28 May 1897, p.4, col.3; e) The Times 11 May 1911, p.3, col.4; f) The Times 25 July 1911, p.4. col.2; g) The Times 23 November 1917, p.3, col.3; h) The Times 19 September 1919, p.4, col.2; i) Chelmsford / Essex Chronicle 26 November 1920, p.7, col.4; j) The Driffield Times and General Advertiser 14 January 1893, p.3, col.7, his obituary appearing in the same issue on p.2, col.4; k) The Driffield Times and General Advertiser 27 July 1895, p.2, col.7; l) The Driffield Times and General Advertiser 10 August 1895, p.3, col.2; m) The Driffield Times and General Advertiser 16 June 1894, p.2, col.1 & 23 June 1894, p.2, col.1 (Notice to Creditors) plus 8 September 1894, p.2, col.3 & 15 September 1894, p.2, col.2 (Notice of Auction of Household Contents); I believe that the East Lodge Printing Works mentioned in Fig.13b also had to be sold, but I have found no newspaper notice of this. n) The Times, 17 July 1912, p.19, col.4 & 10 August 1912, p.3, col.1.

Note 8. So far as I am aware, Fryers / Clery made only one (very!) slight nod towards poetry, and that was in his Crystal Palace Magazine. Some readers had clearly asked for a Poets’ Corner, for in the Editorial Chat column of the Christmas 1900 issue, under the heading “But the Poets”, he wrote, “I am perfectly willing to accept a good poem if it be sent along; but it is useless allotting space for any given class of contribution.” (p.96) He did, however, in the following issue (p.120), set up a Skeleton Verses competition in which readers were given the end words of each line of several verses of a poem and had to fill in the lines so as to form a complete poem. Readers could write on any theme and use any metre, but they had to retain the given line endings in the given order. It wasn’t much of a nod towards poetry, then. But then, as the critic in The Belfast News–Letter, quoted above, said of A Rubaiyat of the Trenches, it too “has no outstanding merit as poetry.”

Note 9a. Launched in The Times on 26 January 1915 (p.9, col.6). it was actually an extension of the Incorporated Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Help Society, which had been founded by Lord Roberts some ten years earlier, in the aftermath of the South African War. The extension was approved by the widow of the then late Lord Roberts (he had died of pneumonia in France in November 1914), and by the 8 March 1915 had raised just over £15,300 (as reported in The Times on 15 March 1915, p.1–2.) By the end of May this had risen to just over £37,600 (The Times, 7 June 1915, p.4, cols.4–6.) Much of the money came from individual donations, but other funds were raised by church congregations, charity concerts, fund–raising theatrical performances, and such like. The Fund fared so well that towards the end of the war the aim had become to reach the £500,000 mark (The Times, 22 May 1918, p.4, cols. 5–6.)

Note 9b. The Album itself is undated but we know that it was published in 1915 by the notice in, for example, the Belfast weekly newspaper The Witness for 26 March 1915, which tells us that the first sheet of stamps was on sale at “all the large stores, booksellers and newsagents, from the Offices of the Incorporated Soldiers and Sailors Help Society, 122 Brompton Road, London S.W., or from the Society’s publishers, Messrs Fawcett & Co., 125 Strand, W.C.” Again, The Publishers’ Circular and Booksellers’ Record for 10 July 1915 (p.26) tells us that the fourth sheet of stamps had just been published. (Each sheet consisted of 12 stamps, and there were to be 12 sheets in all, hence 144 in total.)

Note 9c. Knowledge of the quaint pre–decimal system of British Coinage is fading fast, so it might be a good idea to give a brief explanation of it here. One pound (£1) consisted of 20 shillings (20s), and 1 shilling consisted of 12 pence (12d – the d deriving ultimately from the Latin denarius.) Thus £1 = 240d. Something like 5/7 was short for 5s 7d (= 5 shillings and 7 pence) and 7/- short for 7 shillings exactly (ie 7 shillings and 0 pence.)

Note 10. Under the heading “Piccadilly Puritan” the following notice appeared in The Stage on 6 January 1921 (p.12, col.6):

A new comedy in four acts by Lechmere Worrall, entitled “The Piccadilly Puritan”, founded on the novel by Gertie S. Wentworth Jones (sic), will be produced by Messrs Brayton and Hunter, in conjunction with Mr Archibald Forbes, at the West Pier, Brighton, on Monday. Included in the cast are Misses Gladys Calthrop, Marie Ault, Denzil Mather, Dorothy Lart, Lillian Stanley, Joyce Hoyle and Doreen Whitton; Messrs Henry C. Hewitt and John Trafford.

There is no mention here, then, of the theatrical agency of Fawcett & Fryers of Figs.5a & 5b being involved, and it would be interesting to know why not.

A lengthy and largely favourable review of the opening night appeared, with cast–list and plot–outline, in The Stage on 13 January 1921, p.19 col.1.

The play toured the provinces to some acclaim before appearing at the Ambassadors Theatre, London, in May 1923, at the instigation of Dorothy Minto, in her new role as actress–manageress, who, together with Langthorne Burton, played the leading roles (The Stage, 10 May 1923, p.14, col.3.) The reviews were not good. The Times said that it was “unfortunate that Miss Dorothy Minto should have made her first venture into London theatrical management with such poor material,” adding that though she did her best in her own leading role, making it as amusing as possible, it was all “a sad waste of real cleverness.” (15 May 1923, p.12, col.2.) The Tatler said that it was “a play which is not quite worthy of so clever a little character actress as Miss Minto” (30 May 1923, p.36.) The play folded at the Ambassadors in early June 1923, and went back to touring the provinces before fading into obscurity.

Note 11. Though the two military service acts of 1916 specified an upper age limit for conscription of 41 years (this being raised to 51 only in the third act of 1918), it is, of course, possible that Clery lied about his age, as so many did – both the too young and the too old. But there is no evidence that Clery ever actually served in the trenches.

Note 12. 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.

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 relevant here. Thus, relating to the theme of Divine Intervention, he wrote, on 5th 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)

Note 13. 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, C. 4, respectively. This seems to have been a common device in the printing of books at this time – pages 17, 33, and 49 in de C’s book, for example, are marked C, D and E respectively (page 1 is the pre–title page; page 65 is the rear fly–leaf.)


In addition to people mentioned in the body of this article, I must also thank Sharon Willis of the Research Department of the Communication Workers Union in London for a copy of the obituary of Clery by G.H. Stuart–Bunning, cited in note 1, and the articles by Clery cited in note 2; Michael Behrend for revealing Clery’s presence under mis–spelt names in the census returns for 1881 and 1891; and, as always, the generous services of numerous librarians at the British Library, the John Rylands Library, the Harry Ransom Center and Harvard University. Finally, I must thank Fred Diba, Roger Paas, Sandra Mason and Bill Martin for proof–reading the article and making various helpful suggestions.


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