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´╗┐Title: Heroes in Peace - The 6th William Penn Lecture, May 9, 1920
Author: Holmes, John Haynes, 1879-1964
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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The William Penn Lectures


[Illustration: John Haynes Holmes' signature.]

Walter H. Jenkins, Printer

This is the sixth of the series of lectures known as the WILLIAM PENN
LECTURES. They are supported by the Young Friends' Movement of
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, which was organized on Fifth month 13th,
1916, at Race Street Meeting House in Philadelphia, for the purpose of
closer fellowship, for the strengthening of such association and the
interchange of experience, of loyalty to the ideals of the Society of
Friends, and for the preparation by such common ideals for more
effective work through the Society of Friends for the growth of the
Kingdom of God on earth.

The name of William Penn has been chosen because he was a Great
Adventurer, who in fellowship with his friends started in his youth on
the holy experiment of endeavoring "to live out the laws of Christ in
every thought and word and deed," that these might become the laws and
habits of the State.

John Haynes Holmes, of the Community Church, New York City, delivered
this sixth lecture on "Heroes in Peace," at Race Street Meeting House,
on Fifth month 9th, 1920.

Philadelphia, 1920.

Heroes in Peace

In an essay published some years ago on Thomas Carlyle's famous book,
_Heroes and Hero Worship_, Prof. MacMechan, a well-known student of
literature in England, makes the following observation: "In 1840, 'hero'
meant, most probably, to nine Englishmen out of every ten, a general
officer who had served in the Peninsula, or taken part in the last great
fight with Napoleon, and who dined year after year with the Duke at
Apsley House on the anniversary of Waterloo. To most people 'hero' means
simply 'soldier,' and implies a human soul greatly daring and greatly

What Prof. MacMechan here tells us about the Englishman of 1840 is
equally true of the Englishman of today--is true, indeed, of all
peoples in all ages of history. Heroism has nearly always been taken to
imply physical courage; physical courage has always found its most
terrible and dramatic expression in warfare; and, therefore, by a
natural association of ideas, the hero has come to be identified with
the soldier. When we think of heroes, we almost instinctively find
ourselves thinking of armored champions of Greece and Rome, who were
helped to immortality by Plutarch, whom Emerson calls "the doctor and
historian of heroism"; of King Arthur, and his knights of the Round
Table; of Harold and his men of iron on the field of Hastings; of the
Crusaders, who marched to the East with the sword in the one hand and
the crucifix in the other, to wrest the holy city from the profaning
clutch of the hated Moslem. Or, coming down to the more modern times,
if we speak of heroism to the Frenchman, he thinks of the first Emperor
and the old guard which "dies but never surrenders"; to the Italian, he
hails the names of Garibaldi and the Thousand; to the Englishman, he
acclaims the "thin red line of heroes" who held the field of Waterloo,
conquered India and Egypt, and recently defended the Empire from the
onslaughts of the Germans. And the same thing holds true of the
American! To you and to me, the word "hero" means George Washington and
the ragged Continentals who starved and froze amid the snowdrifts of
Valley Forge; Commodore Perry and the sailors who shattered the British
fleet upon the waters of Lake Erie; General Grant and the boys in blue
who fought and conquered General Lee and the equally heroic boys in
gray. The national heroes of all countries are soldiers. Walk the
streets of any city in any land, and everywhere you will see statues of
military chieftains, as though these were the only heroes the world had
ever produced who were worthy of commemorative monuments. "To most
people," as Prof. MacMechan has well said, "'hero' means simply
soldier"; or, if we be enlightened enough now and then to extend this
title to men who have achieved fame in other walks of life, it is
because we see in them some analogy to the warrior. "It is to the
military attitude of the soul," says Emerson, "that we give the name of

Now that the universal instinct of humanity to identify the hero and the
soldier is sound and wholesome, to a large extent, we must all agree. I
would be among the last, I trust, to deny to the soldier the possession
of those heroic qualities which are so manifestly his. I must confess
that I have both admiration and love for the men who march away to
trench and battlefield, there to fling away their lives as little things
for the sake of some great cause which they hold to be supremely dear.
"Every heroic act," says Emerson again, in his essay on Heroism,
"measures itself by its contempt of some external good"; and what man, I
ask you, has more contempt for certain external goods, and therefore
more heroism, than the loyal soldier? Material comfort, physical
security, the familiar sights and sounds of home, the love of friends
and kindred, the laughter of little children, the dreams of quiet old
age, the precious boon of life--these are some of the more elementary
things which a man shows to us that he holds in contempt, as compared
with the happiness and safety of his native land, when he voluntarily
enlists for active service. There are some soldiers, of course, who are
mere adventurers. There are some others to whom war is nothing more nor
less than a trade. There are still others who see in war only an
opportunity for the release of the brutish passions which are
inconsistent with the ordered ways of peace. But even these men bear a
certain aspect of heroism. "I naturally love a soldier," says Sir Thomas
Browne, in his _Religio Medica_, "and honor those tattered and
contemptible regiments that will die at the command of a sergeant." And
when we come to the ordinary man who goes to the front in time of war,
such as the farmer described by John Masefield in his elegy, August,
1914, who looks with fond eyes upon his furrowed fields, his barns, his
hay-ricks, his "friendly horses"--

    "The rooks, the tilted stacks, the beasts in pen * * *
    The fields of home, the byres, the market towns"

and then, with weary heart, leaves all these things behind to perish in
"the misery of the soaking trench," we find the sublimity of sacrifice.
The true soldier is indeed a hero. In this age, of all ages of human
history, are we unable to give denial to this fact. Millions of men, on
a dozen different battle-fronts, have recently taught us the heroisms
which make war almost as glorious as it is hideous. Not a day passed
during more than four terrible years, but what we read with tingling
hearts how brave men suffered without complaint, and died without fear,
for the countries that they loved. I remember, for example, reading on
a certain day in 1916, in a single copy of an evening newspaper, of
three young soldiers who were heroes. One was a German lad, unnamed, who
was found stricken unto death by the side of a dead Englishman, whose
wounds he had tried to staunch, and whose thirst he had quenched from
the water of his own canteen--a second Sir Philip Sidney, nobler than
the first, since he gave succor not to a friend but to an enemy. The
second man was an Englishman, Capt. Alexander Seaton, who fell fighting
bravely at the Dardanelles. A classical scholar of repute, a fellow in
Pembroke College, Cambridge, devoted to his work as a tutor and lecturer
in history, it was written of him, by one who knew and loved him, "Not a
soldier by inclination, he left his peaceful life at Pembroke solely
because he conceived that his duty lay that way, and that the hour had
come for every man to strike a blow for his country." The third man was
a Frenchman, a poet, Ernest Psichari by name, who fell at Verton, in
Belgium. "His battery had been ordered to keep the enemy in check while
the army was falling back," ran the story. "They were expected to hold
their ground for a few hours, and they did so for a whole day; and when
the last shell had been spent, officers and gunners were killed to a man
on the guns they had taken care to render unusable."

Such are the stories which came to us through the period of the Great
War. All of them are eloquent of the fact, are they not, that the
instinct of humanity is right in its ascription of heroism to the
soldier? If this instinct has gone astray, it is only in the tendency
which it has shown to ascribe heroism exclusively to the soldier. In
attempting to do full justice to the man who has fought and died amid
the terrors of the battlefield, it has been tempted again and again to
do something less than justice to the man who has fought and died as
gallantly in fields less dramatic but no less terrible than those of
war. For whether we judge heroism as involving contempt of comfort,
hazard of death, or the simple eager quest for fullness of life, we find
it, I believe, even more truly, though less frequently, characteristic
of the circumstances of peace than those of war. It was upon this plain
fact that William James sought to vindicate the possibility of what he
called, in his famous essay of that title, "a moral equivalent of war."
He affirmed that "the war party is assuredly right in affirming and
reaffirming that the martial virtues are absolute and permanent human
goods." But, he continues, "patriotic pride and ambition in their
military form are, after all, only specifications of a more general
competitive passion. They are its first form, but that is no reason for
supposing them to be its last form"; nor, we may add, its only present
form. "It would be simply preposterous," says James again, "if the only
force that could work ideals of honor and standards of efficiency into
English or American natures should be the fear of being killed by the
Germans or Japanese. Great indeed is fear, but it is not, as our
military enthusiasts believe and try to make us believe, the only
stimulus known for awakening the higher ranges of men's spiritual
energy. Strenuous honor and disinterestedness abound everywhere. Priests
and medical men are in a fashion educated to it. The only thing needed
henceforward is to inflame the civic temper as past history has
inflamed the military temper." And it is here that James urges, as his
"moral equivalent of war," the conscription of our young men "to coal
and iron mines, to freight trains, to fishing fleets in December, to
dish-washing, clothes-washing, and window-washing, to road-building and
tunnel-making, to foundries and stoke-holes, to the frames of
sky-scrapers," there to pay "their blood-tax--in the immemorial human
warfare against nature." All of which means, among other things, that
those men and women today who are already mining coal, and washing
dishes, and making tunnels, and stoking furnaces, and building
sky-scrapers, are already heroes, trained like the soldier to "the
military ideals of hardihood and discipline!"

There is a heroism of peace comparable in every way to the heroism of
war. Nay, we would go further and say that there is a heroism of peace
superior in many ways to the heroism of war. The true soldier, as we
have seen, is necessarily a hero; but the true hero is by no means
necessarily a soldier. On the contrary, there have been thousands of men
who have ascended to heights of heroic endeavor and achievement, to
which the soldier from the very nature of his profession has never been
able to attain. Emerson declares in his great essay that the heroism of
war is heroism in "its rudest form." May we not also say, perhaps, that
heroism of war is heroism in its easiest and therefore least
extraordinary form? For there are certain circumstances surrounding the
conduct of campaigns and the fighting of battles, which make heroism as
simple and natural as, under other circumstances, it is difficult and
unnatural. I am even tempted to go so far as to assert that a man can be
a hero in war and still be a coward at heart. He can at least meet the
test of heroism amid the fury of armed combat, with some degree of
success, when he would crumple up before this test, like a rotten lance
against a shield, under every other condition. Indeed, we have only to
strip away the trappings, the artificial characteristics of militarism,
in order to see how the heroism produced by war, even at its highest and
best, is of an inferior type, as compared with the purer and nobler type
of heroism produced by the ordinary and therefore more moral experience
of peace. From this point of view, it seems to me that there are at
least three circumstances, altogether peculiar to warfare, which make
the heroism of the soldier to be easy, and therefore of a type
distinctly lower than that manifested by men in other, more commonplace,
less dramatic, but no less terrific crises of experience.

In the first place, let me point out that there is a pageantry about
war, which makes even the meanest heart to beat with a deeper throb and
thus feel a loftier courage than is its wont. There are the uniforms in
which the soldiers are clad, the gleaming swords and rifles which they
carry, the brilliant flags which flutter over their heads, the crashing
music which marks the time for their marching feet. Everywhere, in camp,
on the march, on the battlefield, there is color, glitter, glory, beauty
of sight and sound, the whole paraphernalia of "pomp and circumstance."
And all this has the inevitable effect of making it easy for the
ordinary man to forget his fears and throw himself like a hero into the
stress and strain of combat. Even those who hate war the worst and are
therefore subject the least to its artificial glamor are swept away in
spite of themselves. Richard Le Gallienne has written of this very
experience in his famous poem, The Illusion of War. He starts out by
confessing that he abhors war. "And yet," he says, "How sweet

    "The sound along, the marching street
        of drum and fife" * * *

And he continues--

    "* * * even my peace-abiding feet
    Go marching with the marching street,
    For yonder, yonder, goes the fife,
    And what care I for human life!
    The tears fill my astonished eyes
    And my full heart is like to break."

And then, recovering himself again, he points out how wicked it is to
clothe such a monstrous thing as war in pageantry:

    "* * * like a queen
    That in a garden of glory walks";

and brings against art the charge of "infamy" for hiding in music this
"hideous grinning thing,"

    "Till good men love the thing they loathe."

Now if all this tinsel glory of war has this effect on the mind of such
a pacifist as Mr. Le Gallienne, what shall we say to its effect on the
minds of men who have no particular convictions upon the subject? The
fact of the matter is, there is no accident about all the artificial
splendor which has been thrown about the conditions of warfare from time
immemorial. The flags, the uniforms, the marching, the "heady music,"
have all attached themselves to war for the good and sufficient
psychological reason that they exercise a transforming influence upon
the human heart. Napoleon understood this when he issued his famous
bulletins to his soldiers before going into battle. General Hancock
understood this at Gettysburg when, in the fateful moments just
preceding Pickett's charge, he rode along the crest of Cemetery Ridge
clad in his dress uniform and mounted on a white horse with golden
trappings. The Germans understood this when they sent their men into the
conflict with the music of military bands and with the choral chants of
Luther on their lips. Every humblest subaltern officer in any army
understands this when he places the flag at the head of the moving
regiment. Such appeals to the senses change men on the instant--make the
best of them into saints and the worst of them into momentary heroes.
They become stimulated as by some strange intoxicant, transformed as by
some mystic conversion of the soul. They forget the horrors of the
struggle, the peril of disaster, the chances of life and death. They are
conscious only of glory and delight. Their eyes gleam, their hearts
throb, the earth changes to beauty, the heavens break into song. And
straightway deeds of valor become easy, heroism commonplace, and
sacrifice the order of the day.

    "Sound, sound the clarion, fill the fife,
      To all the sensual world proclaim,
    One crowded hour of glorious life
      Is worth an age without a name."

Now heroism, which is performed under circumstances such as these, is
heroism still. But I want to lay down the principle that such heroism is
of a type inferior to that performed under the drab, uninspiring,
familiar circumstances of daily life. The soldier who goes marching into
battle with the flag before his eyes and wild music in his ears, is a
brave man--but the sailor who leaps into the foaming sea, the miner who
descends into the flaming pit, the locomotive engineer who dies at his
post of duty, without so much as a single human voice, perhaps, to give
him cheer, is a braver man. I always recall in this connection, as a
type and symbol of what we may term the heroism of common life, a story
which I read some years ago in the newspapers. It concerned two
laborers, William Phelps and James Stansbury, who were one day cleaning
out the inside of a large boiler at the Cerealine mills in Indianapolis.
By the error of another workman, live steam was turned into the boiler
before the cleaners had left it. Instantly, by a common impulse, the two
men jumped for the single ladder which led to safety. Phelps got there
first, but no sooner had his foot touched the rounds than he stepped
aside, seized his companion and boosted him up. "You first, Jim," was
his gasping cry, "you first." Pushed and thrust by his friend, Stansbury
escaped, but Phelps was rescued only to die two hours later in dreadful
agony. And when told, just before he died, that Jim was all right, he
said, "That's good--nobody'll miss me, but Jim had the wife and the
kids." It was a wise reporter who put the story on the wire, for he
closed it with the words, "No soldier in the siege of Pekin or the
battle of Santiago ever proved himself a greater hero."

Stories of this kind might be multiplied indefinitely, but I can sum up
all that I would say upon this point by describing a strange little
building which I chanced to discover in an out-of-the-way corner of
London some years ago. For many weeks I had been looking upon cathedrals
and public buildings and city squares, where monuments to soldiers were
as common as daisies in a summer field. Suddenly, on a certain morning,
I came upon a little plot of grass and trees, near the great postoffice
in St. Botolph's, Aldergate, which is called the "Postman's Park," and
at one end of it saw the little open gallery, erected in 1887 by the
great painter, George F. Watts, with its forty-eight tablets placed in
commemoration of certain heroes and heroines who died unknown in the
endeavor to save the lives of others. Here was name after name which
meant nothing, but story after story which meant everything. Tablet 1
was in memory of Tom Griffin, aged 21, a steamfitter, who on April 12,
1899, was scalded to death while trying to save his "mate" from an
exploded boiler; Tablet 3, in memory of Mary Rogers, stewardess of the
steamship Stella, who on March 30, 1899, went down with her ship after
embarking into life boats all the women passengers committed to her
care; Tablet 5, in memory of Elizabeth Boxall, aged 17, who on January
20, 1888, died from injuries received in trying to rescue a little child
from being run over; Tablet 8, in memory of Dr. Samuel Rabbath, officer
of the Royal Free Hospital, who died on October 20, 1884, from
diphtheria contracted by sucking through a glass tube into his mouth the
infected membrane from the throat of a strangling child; Tablet 10, in
memory of William Goodrum, aged 60, a railway flagman, who on February
28, 1880, stepped in front of a flying train to rescue a fellow-laborer,
and was instantly killed; Tablet 16, in memory of Ella Donovan, a woman
of the slums, who on July 28, 1873, entered a burning tenement to rescue
little children, not her own; Tablet 23, in memory of Henry Bristow, a
boy of 8, who on January 5, 1891, died from injuries received in trying
to save his little sister, aged 3, from being burned to death. And so
the tablets tell their pathetic tales! You read one after another until
your eyes are dimmed with tears and you can read no more. And then you
seat yourself for a moment in the quiet park, with all London roaring in
your ears, and you think of these humble men and obscure women who,
without the blare of any music or the flashing colors of any flag or the
thrilling excitement of charge and countercharge, "laid down their lives
for their friends." "Is my face cut?" said William Peart, a locomotive
driver commemorated on Tablet 2, as he was pulled from out the wreckage
of his exploded engine. He was told that it was. "Never mind," he
replied, with his last breath, "I stopped the train." Here is heroism of
a new type--dull, commonplace, everyday, without one trace of color or
romance. But for this very reason do I believe it to be heroism of a
higher type than that of the soldier.

But there is a second circumstance peculiar to the life of the soldier,
which makes martial heroism to be of an easier and therefore inferior
type. I refer to the fact that the soldier performs his deeds of valor
not only under the stimulus of "pomp and circumstance," but also under
the sweet influences of companionship. The soldier is always one of a
company or regiment. Except on occasional scout or sentry duty, he is
always moving with the collective motion of a great host of his
fellowmen. He is never working, fighting, suffering alone, and is
therefore never left to the heart-breaking task of bearing his burden in
solitude. On the contrary, as he walks, he keeps step with thousands of
marching feet; as he advances into battle, he rubs shoulders with his
"mates"; as he falls headlong in the trenches, he is picked up and
ministered to by the hands of those he loves. And out of this solace of
companionship, out of this inspiration of collective life, there comes
creeping into his heart a sense of uplift, a contagion of spirit, which
makes heroism inevitable. I have never seen this aspect of military
experience more wonderfully expressed than by Prof. Perry, of Harvard,
in an article in the New Republic, in which he describes his impressions
as a Plattsburgh "rookie." "Soldierly experiences," he says, "are common
experiences, and are hallowed by that fact. You are asked to do no more
than hundreds of others * * * do with you. If you rinse your greasy
mess-kit in a tub of greasier water, you are one of many gathered like
thirsty birds about a road-side puddle. If you fill your lungs and the
pores of your sweaty skin with dust, fellows in adversity are all about
you, looking grimier than you feel; and your very complaints uttered in
chorus partake of the quality of defiant song. To walk is one thing, to
march albeit with sore feet and aching back is another and more
triumphant. It is 'Hail! Hail! the gang's all here'--it matters not what
the words signify, provided they have a rhythmic swing, and impart a
choral sense of collective unity. * * * Every late afternoon," he
continues, "the flag is lowered, and the band plays 'The Star Spangled
Banner.' Men in ranks are ordered to attention. Men and officers out of
ranks stand at attention where they are, facing a flag, and saluting as
the music ceases. Thus to stand at attention toward sundown, listening
to solemn music sounding faintly in the distance, to see and to feel
that every fellow-soldier is standing also rigid and intent, to
experience this reverent and collective silence * * * is at once to
understand and to dedicate that day's work."

Now all this is very beautiful. But its very beauty is what makes the
heroism of the soldier as easy as the heroism of others is oftentimes
difficult. Compare, for example, the courage of even the most gallant
soldier with the courage of the pioneer, who goes alone into vast and
unfamiliar solitudes, and there amid killing labors and strange perils,
hews out a path to life, with never the face of a comrade or the voice
of a woman to give him cheer. I think that I never knew the meaning of
loneliness, and never understood therefore the sublime heroism of the
pioneer until I journeyed through the prairies of Kansas, the deserts of
Arizona and the pasture lands of Idaho and Montana. Those of you who
have traveled through the great west will recognize the sensation that
came over me as, hour after hour, I gazed upon those uninhabited wastes
and saw only at rarest intervals the traces of human beings. I remember
looking out upon the prairies late one afternoon and watching the slow
fading of the day. For three hours, from four until seven o'clock, I saw
on the passing landscape one horseman, as lonely as a solitary sail at
sea, one prairie wagon with three men gathered about the evening camp
fire, and two houses on the far horizon. From seven to eight o'clock
came on the darkness, and soon we were riding through impenetrable
night; and twice, perhaps three times, at intervals of an hour or more,
I saw a single light twinkling in the distance, marking where some man
or perhaps some family, was living in the solitudes. And I dreamed that
night of the men, and the women, too, who first came out into these vast
spaces, leaving home, friends, companionship behind to make a trail,
build a home, prepare the way for the coming of civilization. The very
road over which my train was moving was the old trail of the Santa Fe,
which had been trod by the feet of thousands of lonely and intrepid
souls, who dared the wilderness and the desert as the forerunners of the
nation's life. These men, and the women also who were with them, to rear
their homes and bear their children, were heroes of a type
sublime--heroes who never knew the joy of comradeship, the consolation
of co-operation, but lived and toiled and died alone, with only a dream
of the future in their hearts to give them courage. It was fitting, and
yet how sadly belated recognition which was given them in the noble
monuments at the World's Fair in Chicago, which bore these inscriptions
from the pen of President Eliot:

    "To the
    Brave Settlers
    Who Leveled
    Cleared Fields
    Made Paths by
    Land and Water
    And Planted

    "To the
    Brave Women
    Who in
    Amid Strange
    Dangers and
    Heavy Toils
    Reared Families
    And Made Homes."

Such is the heroism of solitude! But not yet have we reached its purest
and noblest form. These men and women were lonely, it is true; but they
were sustained, after all, by a great hope of the future, by dreams of
prosperity and happiness to come as the fruit of toil, by ambitions for
the children who would survive to better and fuller days. Braver even
than these are the men who have faced loneliness without hope--who have
looked not merely on solitude, but on solitude ending in defeat and
death--and still have lived as those who had no fear. The classic
example of this great heroism has been given to the world by our own
age, in the story of Captain Scott. Whenever my own faint heart begins
to fail under the strain of burdens absurdly light, I take up a copy of
Captain Scott's Journals, as I would take up a copy of holy scripture,
and I read as long as my tear-filled eyes can see the page the items
that he jotted down in his diary on those last terrible days before he
died. Here he is in the midst of the vast solitudes of the arctic
wastes, struggling along with his two half-dead companions, his feet
frozen, food gone, fuel gone, and a hurricane beating him helpless to
the ground. He knows he cannot get through to his goal, he knows there
is no living soul within hundreds of miles to bring him succor. On March
19th he speaks of their "forlorn hope"; on the 22nd he confesses that
"he must be near the end"; on the 29th he speaks of death and says
flatly, "I do not think we can hope for any better things now. * * * We
are getting weaker, and the end cannot be far." But never once, for all
his anguish and solitude, does he give way. "We shall stick it out to
the end," is his word. He can even joke at one time in a grim and
terrible sort of way. "No human being could face (this) storm," he
writes on March 18th, "and we are nearly worn out. My right foot is
gone--two days ago I was the proud possessor of the best feet. These are
the steps of my downfall." And then there come the last hours. His two
companions lie dead, one on either side of him. Outside of his little
snow hut is the raging storm. He is alone with death. And as calmly as
though he were writing a report in the naval offices in London, he
scrawls with frozen fingers those immortal letters, first to Mrs. Wilson
and Mrs. Bowers, the mothers of the two men whose bodies are beside him,
then to his own mother and his wife, then to his friends, Sir James M.
Barrie and Vice-Admiral Egerton, then the statement to the public with
its closing words, "I do not regret this journey, which has shown that
Englishmen can endure hardships, help one another and meet death with as
great fortitude as ever in the past. We took risks, we knew we took
them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause
for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do
our best to the last. But had we lived I should have had a tale to tell
of the hardihood, endurance and courage of my companions which would
have stirred the heart of every Englishman." Eight months later his
body was found, sitting erect, his arms extended to his dead companions
on either side as though his lonely soul sought at the end the comfort
of even their frozen bodies, and on his face a smile as beautiful as
that of a child just fallen into slumber.

Heroism! my friends! What is the heroism of even the bravest soldier
compared to heroism such as this? I would not disparage the men who have
suffered and died on the fields of Flanders and Galicia. But is it not
true, after all, that we can do much if only we have the dear friends to
bear us company, and that the real test comes when we stand "alone,
alone, all, all alone," with the universe and God. To work alone, like
the pioneer, with never a hand to clasp and help his own; to die alone,
like Captain Scott, with wife, child, mother, friends thousands of miles
away, all ignorant of his fate, and "still to do the best to the
last"--this is heroism. The soldier as a soldier for all his courage
cannot match it.

But there is still a third aspect of the soldier's life which touches
very vitally upon this question of heroism. I refer to the fact that the
soldier, in the vast majority of cases, is engaged in a business which
has the enthusiastic endorsement of his fellowmen. He is distinctly on
the right side. He is doing the popular thing. The eyes of the people
are upon him. He marches away to the waving of flags and the applause of
multitudes. Children cheer him, women embrace him, old men bless him. If
he is wounded, he is tenderly cared for by the nation. If he performs
some gallant deed, he is rewarded by orders of merit, and perhaps by the
gift of the Victoria Cross. If he dies, he is buried amid sounding
eulogies and commemorated by statues and inscriptions. "Victory, or
Westminster Abbey," cried Lord Nelson as he sailed into the battle of
Trafalgar. And similar, to the degree of humble deserts, is the cry of
every soldier or sailor who takes up arms for his country. For the
moment he is the symbol of the nation. He embodies within his own single
person the hopes and praises of an entire people. He lives, and, if he
dies, he dies in the good opinion of mankind. And I can tell you that
nothing makes life so smooth and death so comparatively simple as this
good opinion of which I speak. The hardest suffering seems easy, and the
most untimely death not altogether unwelcome, if only we can know that
all men are our friends, and we live or die with their blessings upon
our heads. "A good name," says the preacher, "is better than precious
ointment"; and again he declares, "A good name is better than riches."
By which he means, I take it, that there is nothing in the outer world,
however desirable in itself, which can give us compensation for the
loss of favor of mankind.

Now we begin to get just a glimpse, at least, of a nobler and rarer type
of heroism than that of the soldier, when we look upon the man who, in
obedience to some inner impulse of the soul, deliberately alienates
himself from the sympathy and the applause of his fellows. Such a man
must be regarded as a kind of pioneer or explorer, who goes into the
solitudes not of the physical but of the spiritual realm, there to blaze
new trails, and, perhaps like Captain Scott, to die alone. A striking
example of heroism of this kind, presented in exact antithesis to the
ordinary heroism of the soldier, may be found in John Galsworthy's play,
The Mob. At first accepted only as a brilliant piece of imagination, the
drama becomes charged with real significance when we learn that its
action is a more or less exact reproduction of the situation which was
precipitated in England during the Boer War by Lloyd-George and his
famous "Stop-the-War party." The story of the play, and to a large
extent of English history in 1899, is that of a Cabinet Minister,
Stephen More by name, who opposes from his seat in the House of Commons
a war threatened by England against a weaker nation, and continues his
opposition after the war has been declared and an English army has been
slaughtered. Resigning his office, he stumps the country in a campaign
for peace, alienates his wife, who is outraged by his attitude, faces
persistently the attacks of angry mobs, and at last is murdered and thus
made a martyr to his cause. The spiritual, if not the dramatic, climax
of the play comes in the second scene of the last act, where Stephen
More, in answer to his wife and his father-in-law, who are appealing to
him for the last time to abandon his mad purpose, contrasts his deeds
with those of the soldiers at the front. "Our men," answers More, "are
dying out there for the faith that's in them. I believe my faith the
higher, the better for mankind. Am I now to shrink away? (Mine's) a
forlorn hope--not to help let die a fire--a fire that's sacred--not only
now in this country, but in all countries for all time." And in this
spirit, with the execrations of his family and of an entire people on
his head, he goes alone to a cruel death.

What we see in this drama of Mr. Galsworthy is only what we see again
and again after all in the infinitely greater drama of humanity. The
noblest testimony to the quality of men's souls that we have anywhere,
is that which has been given to us by the "noble company of the
apostles, the goodly fellowship of the prophets, the noble army of
martyrs," who, refusing to take the easy road of popularity, have
deliberately chosen the thorny path of insult, ignominy, destruction,
for the faith that glowed within their souls. Isaiah, Jeremiah,
Socrates, St. Paul, Wycliff, Huss, Savanarola, Martin Luther, John Knox,
George Fox, John Wesley, Joseph Priestly, Theodore Parker--how the names
multiply, all as sweet as honey to our lips, of those who refused to
barter their souls even for the good will of men. And first among them
all, of course, is Jesus, the Nazarene. The noblest thing that was ever
said of the Carpenter-Prophet was this--that "he made himself of no
reputation." The noblest and also the most pathetic thing that He ever
said of Himself was this--that "the birds have nests and the foxes
holes, but the son of man hath nowhere to lay his head." The noblest
thing He ever did was this--to walk from the house of Pilate to the
crest of Calvary, with the cross upon His back and the railing mob
behind Him and before, and never once to falter and complain. Hated and
hooted by the multitudes who at one time followed Him gladly, deserted
even by the twelve who had pledged to Him their lives, misunderstood,
despised, condemned, spat upon--a stranger even to His mother and His
brethren--what a fate was this! And what consummate heroism was needed
to meet it unafraid! In the face of such a supreme spectacle of
sacrifice as this, how foolish, how unjust to identify the hero, to any
degree of exclusiveness with the soldier. The soldier is a hero, without
doubt, but greater than he is the hero who bears not arms but a cross,
wears not a crown of laurel but a crown of thorns, and dies not on the
field of battle but on "the field of the skull." "He was despised and
rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; one from
whom men hid their faces; * * * he was oppressed, stricken, smitten of
God * * * yet when he was afflicted he opened not his mouth"--of whom
such things as this may be truly said, He is the noblest hero of them
all. James Russell Lowell has set forth this abiding truth in his
Present Crisis:

  "Count me o'er earth's chosen heroes--they were souls who stood alone,
  While the men they agonized for, hurled the contumelious stone,
  Stood serene, and down the future saw the golden beam incline,
  To the side of perfect justice, mastered by their faith divine,
  By one man's plain truth to manhood and to God's supreme design."

Such are the types of heroism which I have thought it well to bring to
your attention this afternoon. Accepting the soldier as the traditional
and not unworthy standard of all heroic types, I have nevertheless tried
to show that there are other men who meet all the hazards of suffering
and death which he encounters, and yet are denied the aids and comforts
which are his. I have contrasted the utter commonplaces of the obscure
heroisms of daily life with the pomp and pageantry of martial life. I
have contrasted the awful solitude of the men who made new paths and
faced unfamiliar perils on prairie, desert and arctic sea, with the
cheerful comradeship which hallows the experience of the soldier. And I
have contrasted the popular acclaim which is the very breath of the
warrior's nostrils with the popular odium and hatred which kill the
prophets of the new and better day. Thus have I moved from what I
believe to be, from its very nature, the lowest, or "rudest," grade of
heroism, to those which I believe to be the higher and finer grades. And
it must have long since become evident to you, that every step that I
have taken in the progress of my argument has been away from what we
may well call the more physical expression of heroic endeavor, to those
which are more moral, or spiritual. That the true soldier is possessed
of something more than mere brute courage, I would be among the very
last, I trust, to deny. But however fine and pure may be the valor of
his soul, it still must be admitted, in the last analysis, that the
soldier never rids himself of the material accessories and trappings of
the world. The flag that greets his eye and the music that beats upon
his ear, the personal contact of his fellows upon the march and in the
trenches, the medals and monuments that embody a nation's applause and
gratitude--all these things, with however high an admixture of spiritual
elements, are still fundamentally "of the earth, earthy." And so
essential are they to the soldier's life, that we cannot think of that
life without them. But how different is the situation when we turn to
these other types of heroism of which I have made mention! How do the
earthly foundations seem to disappear, and those foundations which are
only spiritual take their place! These unknown heroes, whose names and
deeds are recorded on the tablets in the Postman's Park--what stirred
them to action save the spontaneous promptings of their own hearts?
Those "brave settlers," and "brave women" who "cleared fields" and "made
homes" in solitary places--Captain Scott who faced death all alone in
terrifying storms of the Antarctic--what sustained them but the secret
counsel of their inward spirits? And Jesus of Nazareth as he hung upon
the cross--upon what did he rely, if not upon God and his own soul? The
heroism of the soldier, even at its best, is more or less a fleshy,
worldly thing. The heroism of these others is more and more a spiritual
unworldly thing, until, at the topmost grade of all, we meet the
prophet, the saint, the martyr, who matches his naked soul against the
world, and gladly loses the one that he may save the other.

It is when we attain to this viewpoint, that we begin to understand the
mistake of ordinary opinion in identifying the hero with the soldier.
Especially in this age of waxing militarism, it is well for us to note
the fallacy which is involved in this primeval superstition. Heroism, at
its truest and best, is spiritual. It is "an obedience," says Emerson,
"to a secret impulse of an individual's character." It needs no other
stimulus, hides in no gorgeous trappings, craves no companionship in
suffering, accepts no rewards of merit or applause. Contemptuous of
"external good," it seeks its own counsel and obeys the mandates of its
own spirit. Heroism of this kind flourishes in times of war as in all
times of terror. But so essentially brutal, hideous, cruel is every
circumstance of war, that even the noblest heroism is degraded and
defiled by it. It is only when the arms of the flesh are broken and cast
aside, and the soul stands naked before its Maker, that heroism becomes
transcendant in obscurity, loneliness, persecution; when all things that
the world can give have failed and dropped away it reveals itself, like
a star at midnight, shining to the glory of Almighty God. Emerson has
summed it all up, in his introductory lines to his essay on Heroism--

    "Ruby wine is drunk by knaves,
    Sugar spends to fatten slaves,
    Rose and vine-leaf deck buffoons;
    Thunder clouds are Jove's festoons,
    Drooping oft in wreaths of dread
    Lightning-knotted round his head;
    The hero is not fed on sweets
    Daily his own soul he eats."

       *       *       *       *       *

    Elbert Russell

    George A. Walton

    Norman H. Thomas

    Harry F. Ward

    Rufus M. Jones

    John Haynes Holmes

    William Penn Lectures are published by the Young
    Friends' Movement. Copies may be obtained from
    the Headquarters, at the Central Bureau Office,
    154 N. 15th Street, or from Walter H. Jenkins,
    140 N. 15th Street, Philadelphia, Pa. Paper-bound
    copies at -- cents; in cloth, -- cents.

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