It is one of the smaller consolations of the war that it has given us in London a chance of hearing that language. The lamps of the street are blotted out, and the lamps above are visible. Five nights of the week all the year round I take the last bus that goes northward from the City, and from the back seat on the top I watch the great procession of the stars. It is the most astonishing spectacle offered to men. Emerson said that if we only saw it once in a hundred years we should spend years in preparing for the vision. It is hung out for us every night, and we hardly give it a glance. And yet it is well worth glancing at. It is the best corrective for this agitated little mad-house in which we dwell and quarrel and fight and die. It gives us a new scale of measurement and a new order of ideas. Even the war seems only a local affair of some ill-governed asylum in the presence of this ordered march of illimitable worlds. I do not worry about the vision; I do not badger the stars to give me their views about the war. It is enough to see and feel and be silent.
And now I hope Althea will waste no more postage stamps in sending me her desecrating gibberish.
When I was in France a few weeks ago I heard much about the relative qualities of different classes of men as soldiers. And one of the most frequent themes was the excellence of the “black sheep.” It was not merely that he was brave. That one might expect. It was not even that he was unselfish. That also did not arouse surprise. The pride in him, I found, was chiefly due to the fact that he was so good a soldier in the sense of discipline, enthusiasm, keenness, even intelligence. It is, I believe, a well-ascertained fact that an unusually high proportion of reformatory boys and other socially doubtful men have won rewards for exceptional deeds, and every one knows the case of the man with twenty-seven convictions against him who won the V.C. for one of the bravest acts of the war.
It must not be assumed from this that to be a successful soldier you must be a social failure. On the contrary, nothing has been so conclusively proved by this war as the widespread prevalence of the soldierly instinct. Heroes have sprung up from all ranks and all callings—from drapers’ shops and furniture vans, from stools in the city and looms in Lancashire, from Durham pits and bishops’ palaces. Whatever else the war has done, it has knocked on the head the idea that the cult of militarism is necessary to preserve the soul of courage and chivalry in a people. We, with a wholly civic tradition, have shown that in the hour of need we can draw upon an infinite reservoir of heroism, as splendid as anything in the annals of the human race.