Before 1914

November 3 2010

“We too had many pretty toys when young:
A law indifferent to blame or praise,
To bribe or threat; habits that made old wrong
Melt down, as it were wax in the sun’s rays;
Public opinion ripening for so long
We thought it would outlive all future days.
O what fine thought we had because we thought
That the worst rogues and rascals had died out.

“All teeth were drawn, all ancient tricks unlearned,
And a great army but a showy thing;
What matter that no cannon had been turned
Into a ploughshare? Parliament and king
Thought that unless a little powder burned
The trumpeters might burst with trumpeting
And yet it lack all glory; and perchance
The guardsmen’s drowsy chargers would not prance.”


Yeats, from Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen.

I have quoted this before and feel that if Toynbee had known it he would have quoted it often. Yeats’s descent into ordinary speech (“the worst rogues and rascals”) is stunningly effective.

2 Responses to “Before 1914”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Arthur Rackham to George Clausen, my great-grandfather, August 18 1939: “We thought, we late Victorians, that we had got past all such criminal folly & expected that those after us would have finer & wiser lives than we had had.”

    In James Hamilton, Arthur Rackham, A Life with Illustration, Pavilion Books, 1990. Rackham died three days after the declaration of war.

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