Letters of Charles Hamilton Sorley

Charles Hamilton Sorley was a British soldier in the first part of World War I. He had been a student in Germany before the war and had some admiration for the German spirit and Kultur. He was killed in action at the battle of Loos on October 13, 1915. His father gathered and published Sorley’s collected letters after the war. I read excerpts from that collection in The Penguin Book of First World War Prose.

“Germany must be crushed for her wicked and selfish aspiration to be mistress of the world but the country that, when mistress of the world, failed to set her an example of unworldliness and renunciation should take to herself half the blame of the blood expended in the crushing.”

The country that failed is Britain, of course.

“I have had a conventional education: Oxford would have corked it. But this has freed the spirit, glory be. Give me The Odyssey, and I return the New Testament to store. Physically as well as spiritually, give me the road.”

“I shall march hotly to the firing line, by turns critic, actor, hero, coward, and soldier of fortune: perhaps even for a moment Christian, humble, with ‘Thy will be done’. Then shock, combustion, the emergence of one of these: death or life: and then return to the old rigamarole.”

The Germany Mr. Sorley writes about, confident in her moral and cultural superiority, sounds a lot like the United States in the twenty-first century. The German intent was to export the strength and courage and efficiency of the Germans (Prussians) to the rest of the benighted and deprived world. And if this mission must be done militarily, then so be it. Are we caught up in the same error? Or have we learned from the First and Second World War that cultures and mores, no matter how superior, can only be exported by persuasion and propaganda, never by force?

3 thoughts on “Letters of Charles Hamilton Sorley

  1. I recently joined the challenge with a Charles Todd mystery, An Unmarked Grave. It showed the gruesome side of this war though it was a good novel. It does show the horror of war.

  2. I’ve been watching the PBS series about the reign of Queen Victoria.

    It’s frightening how much America today is like what Britain became during her reign. So much of her original decisions to go into other lands were to proclaim the gospel but by the end of her life, it was through brute force that England conquered other countries.

    It started good and their original intent was missionary work, then to open commerce between the countries but greed and a quest for power took over.

    It’s just as startling (perhaps even more so) that German had so many Christians in it and we still had the Holocaust!

  3. Thanks for participating in the challenge. We’ve linked to your review and a snippet will appear on the main page on July 24.

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