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Forecasts of Warfare in Fiction 1803–1914

  • I. F. Clarke (a1)

Fifty years ago the dreadful slaughter of Verdun and the Somme revealed to the still unsuspecting nations of Europe that the applied science of the machine gun, barbed wire and heavy artillery had changed the nature of warfare. Later on, when writers as different as Winston Churchill, Field-Marshall Lord French, Herbert Read and William Faulkner attempted to explain the general sense of stupefaction at the unprecedented massacres of the First World War, they pointed to a catastrophic gap between what had been expected and what came to pass. According to Winston Churchill, “for a year after the war had begun hardly anyone understood how terrific, how almost inexhaustible were the resources in force, in substance, in virtue, behind every one of the combatants” The military explanation came from the Commander-in-Chief of the British forces: “No previous experience, no conclusion I had been able to draw from campaigns in which I had taken part, or from a close study of the new conditions in which the war of today is waged, had led me to anticipate a war of positions. All my thoughts, all my prospective plans, all my possible alternatives of action, were concentrated upon a war of movement and manoeuvre.”.

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1 Churchill Winston S., The World Crisis, 1911–1914 (London, 1923), I, p. 11.

2 French Lord, 1914 (London, 1919), p. 11.

3 Wordsworth William, “Anticipation. October 1803The Poetical Register, 1803, iii, p. 340.

4 Black and White, 2 January 1892, p. 2.

5 Le Monde Ilustré, No. 2241. 10 March 1900, p. 146.

6 The European recollection of the Battle of Dorking remained very vivid, certainly up to the end of the century. For example, in 1882 the editor of the Bibliothèque populaire de la Suisse Romande introduced a story of a future war with a direct reference to Chesney: “La fameuse Bataille de Dorking, dont l'apparition il y a une dizaine d'années, fit tant de bruit en Angleterre, a eu de nombreuses imitations plus ou moins originales, plus ou moins spirituelles.” (Ire Année, November 1882, p. 265.) On another occasion a French translator introduced his version of The Battle of Port Said as “la description d'un combat naval imaginaire, sorte de Dorking maritime” (Garcon A., Le Combat Naval de Port Said, Paris, 1883, p. 3). For a study of Chesney's achievement see: Clarke I. F., “The Battle of Dorking” Victorian Studies, June 1965, pp. 308328.

7 Read Herbert, Annals of Innocence and Experience (London, 1946), p. 118. A similar view appears in: Wrench E., Struggle, 19141920 (London, 1935), pp. 112113. He writes: “My ideas of European wars were derived from panoramas of the Franco-Prussian conflict to be seen in continental cities. It was the war of tradition. Cavalry charged at the foe. When death came, it was a heroic death brought about by heroes on the other side.” Theodore Ropp – War in the Modern World (Durham, N.C., 1959), p. 187 – makes a similar point: “Consequently and unconsciously, the men in the ranks in 1914 had been led to believe that the coming war would be short and glorious. The resulting shock was to be one factor in the appearance of the greatest war literature in history.”

8 Hugo Victor, Les Misérables. Translated by Wilbour Charles E. (London, 1959), I, pp. 309310. Italics as in text.

9 Thackeray W. M., Vanity Fair (London, 1956), p. 256. It is relevant to note here the comment Arthur Waugh makes on Victorian poetry: “The Victorian poets wrote of war as though it were something splendid and ennobling; but as a matter of fact they knew nothing whatever about it.” Tradition and Change (London, 1919), p. 150. One thinks of the lines on the Crimean War in Tennyson's Maud”. They begin: “And hail once more to the banner of battle unroll'd!” (Part III, IV).

10 Voltaire, Candide. Translated by Butt John (Penguin Books, 1952), p. 26.

11 Swift Jonathan, Gulliver's Travels (Oxford, 1949), p. 294.

12 Letters of Matthew Arnold, 1848–1888, ed. Russell George W. E. (London, 1895), I, p. 109.

13 Ruskin John, Lecture III, The Crown of Wild Olive (London, 1895), pp. 123124.

14 On War. Translated by Graham Colonel J. J.. New and revised edition with Introduction and Notes by Maude Colonel F, N. (London, 1908), I, p. 121,

15 Ibid., I, xxiii.

16 Foch Marshal, The Principles of War (London, 1918), p. 35.

17 Quoted in Davis H. W. C., The Political Thought of Heinrich von Treitschke (London, 1914), p. 179.

18 Ibid., p. 155.

19 SirNewbolt Henry , My World as in my Time (London, 1932), p. 40.

20 Newbolt Henry, Collected Poems, 1897–1907 (London, 1907), p. 132.

21 My World, p. 186.

22 Collected Poems, p. 16.

23 Shaw George Bernard, Arms and the Man (London, 1930), VIII, p. 4.

24 Ibid., p. xvii.

25 von Suttner Bertha, Lay down your Arms! (London, 1892), p. 92.

26 Letters on Cavalry (London, 1892), p. 32.

27 Letters, II, pp. 4748.

28 “Memorandum by Lord Wolseley, June 1882” quoted in Knowles J., The Channel Tunnel and Public Opinion (London, 1883), pp. 7576.

29 Forth C., The Surprise of the Channel Tunnel (London, 1883), p. 4.

30 Der grosse Krieg von 189–. Ein Zukunftsbild … übersetzt von Witte E. A. (Berlin, 1894), p. 2.

31 The Times, 23 April, 1885, p. 8.

32 Angell Norman, After All (London, 1950), p. 120.

33 Jones Kennedy, Fleet Street and Downing Street (London, 1920), p. 198.

34 Fyfe Hamilton, Northcliffe (London, 1930), p. 90.

35 The Mail, Portsmouth, 15 June 1895.

36 Danrit Capitaine, La Guerre en rase campagne (Paris, 1891), I, p. ii.

37 Engineering, 6 07 1883, XXXVI, p. 1. For a comparable French study of the effect of armaments on the conduct of a future war see Nigote C., La Bataille de la Vesles (Paris, 1894). The author, Chef de Bataillon au 119e Régiment d'Infanterie, points out the rapid changes in equipment since 1870: the artillery model has been changed three times, and after three successive types of rifle the latest model would have to be improved. And then, “cette amélioration à peine opérée, nous nous trouverons, sans doute, en présence d'une de ces inventions surprenantes, comme nous en voyons apparaître dans notre siècle” (p. 2).

38 Rear-Admiral Colomb P. and others, The Great War of 189– (London, 1893), p. 185.

39 Ibid., pp. 187–188.

40 Wells H. G., Anticipations (London, 1902), p. 204.

41 Bloch I. S., Modern Weapons and Modern Warfare (London, 1900), p. x. The British military expert, Major-General J. F. C. Fuller, wrote of the period before 1914: “Among the many military theorists who appeared during these years, one was outstanding, namely I. S. Bloch … His description of the modern battle is exact, for it is exactly as it was fought 17 years later. And his prediction of the war is no less accurate.” The Decisive Battles of the Western World (London, 1956), III, pp. 182183. Fuller goes on to say: “Few soldiers and sailors were as clear-sighted as he, and those who did see clearly, like him, failed to see that industry and science had already placed in their hands weapons of such power that if rightly combined they could prevent a war of attrition” (p. 185).

42 Luvaas Jay, “European Military Thought and Doctrine” The Theory and Practice of War, Howard Michael, ed. (London, 1965), p. 91.

43 Bloch I. S., p. xxvii.

44 There were two books: Siwinna Carl, Vademecum für Phantasiestrategen (Leipzig, 1906) and Louis C Fictions guerrières anglaises (Paris, 1910). Other major studies include: “Die Invasion Englands in englischer Beleuchtung” Marine Rundschau, 1908, pp. 1246–1258; Lowe Charles, “About German Spies” Contemporary Review, 1910, pp. 4256; Hurd A., “England's Peril” Contemporary Review, 1910, pp. 250276.

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