The lamps are going out

August 3 2014

“The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.”

Sir Edward Grey, Vol 2 of Twenty-Five Years, 1892-1916, 2 volumes, Hodder and Stoughton, 1925:

“A friend came to see me on one of the evenings of the last week – he thinks it was on Monday, August 3rd. We were standing at a window of my room in the Foreign Office. It was getting dusk, and the lamps were being lit in the space below on which we were looking. My friend recalls that I remarked on this with the words: ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.’”

John Alfred Spender, Vol 2 of Life, Journalism and Politics, 2 volumes, Cassell, 1927:

“I had two short talks with Grey during the ‘twelve days [July 24 to August 4].’ I ran into him on the stairs of the Foreign Office on Saturday, August 1st […]. I saw him again late in the evening at his room at the Foreign Office on Monday, August 3rd, and it was to me he used the words which he has repeated in his book, ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe, and we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.’ We were standing together at the window looking out into the sunset across St. James’s Park, and the appearance of the first lights along the Mall suggested the thought.”

On August 1 1914, Germany (which was allied with Austria-Hungary) had declared war against Russia (which was allied with Serbia). On the 3rd it declared war against France. Britain entered the war against Germany on the 4th, after it received an “unsatisfactory reply” regarding Belgian neutrality.

Many could not comprehend the scale of what was happening, but The Economist sounded like Thucydides. August 1:

“On Sunday – just four weeks after the murder by Servian [sic] assassins [Princip was a Bosnian Serb] of the Austrian Heir-Apparent and his wife in Sarajevo – Europe was suddenly confronted with the fear of a great war on a scale of unprecedented magnitude, involving loss of life and a destruction of all that we associate with modern civilisation too vast to be counted or calculated, and portending horrors so appalling that the imagination shrinks from the task.”

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