Honours Easy

I was delighted by the brief irruption of the ghost of C.E.Montague into today’s Guardian. I’d just been thinking about his 1923 collection of short stories, Fiery Particles.

What did the readers of Blackwood’s Magazine, more used to the breezily conventional military writing of Ian Hay, make of these stories, especially Honours Easy, a tale of two staff officers competing to see who can get most medals without going within gunshot of the enemy? It’s a post-war story with all the wildness of A Hind let Loose, Montague’s joyful pre-war satire on provincial journalism.

Colin, the anti-hero of the story, is very like the journalist Fay, the manic centre of A Hind Let Loose, amorally delighting in his power to work the system, blithely superior to those who take things seriously. One senses that this character was the irresponsible imp who usually had to be kept hidden within the public personage of Charles Montague, responsible Guardian leader writer and wartime censor of correspondents’ reports.

Most memorable in Honours Easy is the general (nicknamed The Crook):

He had come out to France in command of a division. The first time it went into action his genius miscarried and lost a mile of ground and half his men. It was only then that the General showed his full speed. Some say he had leapt into an aeroplane the moment the battle was lost. Anyway, he was in London incredibly soon, and seeing the proper person about a mark of distinction so signal that, when the bad news came in, it would look silly to turn round and give him a post on the shelf. Still the news came, in the end; some of these things will get out, whatever you do. Clearly The Crook was not born to command divisions. So he was given a corps to command…

This story is yet another of those texts from the early twenties that take a radically sceptical attitude towards the war. I’m gathering quite a list of them.

2 Comments

  1. Andy Frayn
    Posted December 28, 2006 at 3:12 am | Permalink

    I find that one of the most fascinating things about that collection is its very title. Indicative of CEM’s increasing distaste for the war? Rutherford / Einstein’s discoveries?

    I’m also interested in Montague – though to use the word fan would be perhaps too strong. Disenchantment, Fiery Particles, and some of Rough Justice all point towards and contribute to the early development of a growing ‘disenchanted’ view of war, and he clearly felt on a personal level that his war experience contributed to him being, as he perceived it, edged out of the Guardian.

  2. Posted December 28, 2006 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    I think Fiery Particles refers to minds. Early Greek philosophers such as Heraclitus and Anaximander thought the “primordial source of Being” was Mind, which they linked with Fire. “Mind-Fire” was the ruling principle behind the cosmos and therefore behind every one of its parts, large or small. Thus a “fiery particle” or an “atom of Mind-Fire” was at the core of man.

    Montague would also have known Byron’s comment on Keats in Don Juan:

    John Keats, who was killed off by one critique,
    Just as he really promised something great,
    If not intelligible, – without Greek
    Contrived to talk about the Gods of late,
    Much as they might have been supposed to speak.
    Poor fellow! His was an untoward fate: –
    ‘Tis strange the mind, that very fiery particle,
    Should let itself be snuffed out by an Article.


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