I’m reading The Fortune, Douglas Goldring’s 1917 novel about conscientious objectors (and others). I’ll write more about the book later, but for now I’ll quote Aldous Huxley’s introduction to the 1934 reprint. He says that The Fortune:
contains what is, I believe, the earliest, indeed the only contemporary, fictional account of War-time pacifism. So far as it goes, this account is excellent. The statement of the civilised man’s conscientious objection to war could not be bettered. One only wishes, when one has read this part of the book, that there were more of it. One would like, for example, a statement of the uncivilised objector’s case. the most astounding third-century figures kept popping up before the tribunals: the most unlikely Khlystis and Dukhobors emerged into the light of bourgeois English day. Another thing one would like to see is an account of an objector’s life after the passing of the tribunal’s sentence – whether in gaol, in an ambulance unit, or at home on the land. Wherever it was led the life was an odd one.
There is at least one other contemporary fictional account of conscientious objectors, Despised and Rejected, by A.T.Fitzroy (pen-name of Rose Laure Allantini) a book prosecuted when published in 1918 for its treatment of the theme of homosexuality – though the pacifism didn’t help it with the magistrate. Like The Fortune, this also deals with well-educated, articulate conscientious objectors, and for all his snobbish language about the “civilised” and “uncivilised”, Huxley has a point.
Cyril Pearce’s excellent historical study Comrades in Conscience describes a Socialist/Quaker network of anti-War feeling in Huddersfield – but for me the most interesting part is Table 16 at the back of the book. It’s the Pelham committee’s analysis of the objections of men referred to the committee. Out of 3,964, only 140 were from the Society of Friends, which most of us would immediately think of as the likeliest religious group to produce pacifists. Among other groups:
- 145 were Plymouth Brethren
- 112 were Methodists
- 66 were Jehovah’s Witnesses
- 51 were Church of England
- 10 were Seventh Day Adventists
- 9 were from the Community of the Son of God
- 8 were from the Peculiar People
- 5 were Christian Scientist
- 3 were from the Jewish Christian Church
- 3 were Tolstoyan
- 3 were Nazarites
- 1 was from Dowie’s Church
- 1 was Swedenborgian
and so on and so on…
But 1,716 were Christadelphian.
That’s a huge number. I certainly haven’t come across any fictional treatment of this community, and I don’t know of any historical studies of their pacifism either (Perhaps someone can point me in the direction of some?).
Travelling around England, one occasionally spots a Christadelphian Chapel – small dark places with bolted doors and little indication of what goes on within. To find out more, I’ve Googled up a Christadelphian website, It gives an indication of the essential creed of these “Bible-believing people”.
- The Bible is God’s word and the only message from him. It is without error, except for copying and translation errors.
- There is only one God – the Father. The Holy Spirit is God’s power.
- Jesus is the Son of God, and a human being, through his mother Mary.
- Man is mortal, having no existence when dead.
- By living a sinless life, ending with his sacrificial death by crucifixion, Jesus has opened the way of salvation from death.
- Belief and baptism are essential steps to salvation.
- God raised Jesus from death. Jesus is currently in Heaven, on God’s right hand. He will one day return.
- When Jesus returns, he will raise his “sleeping” followers from death and grant immortality to the faithful who have tried to live by God’s precepts.
- His followers will help him to rule, bringing justice, righteousness and peace to the whole world – the Kingdom of God.
No mention of pacifism there – but these beliefs inspired 1,716 men to face the tribunals between 1916 and 1918, risking a great deal of antagonism from the wider patriotic community.