Edgar Wallace was once the best-known and best-selling author in Britain. His thrillers caused sensations and were read by just about everyone. His plays packed theatres. His sales in Germany and elsewhere were immense, too. Is he still read, except as a curiosity? I don’t think his thrillers have worn as well as Sapper’s.
He started as a journalist, and reported the Boer War. Sometimes in South Africa he tried his hand at verse, and produced pieces that were tough and realistic. here’s one I didn’t know until today. It was printed in the Spectator in 1902:
The sentiments are standard; this is an upstanding young officer proud of his ‘two years’ work’ in South Africa. He’s able to speak of the ‘glory and joy’ of fighting, which not so many did in the Great War.
But the stream of consciousness effect seems ahead of its time, and the use of slang (‘old boy’) links it with the Great War poems where the poet is striving after an authentic officer’s voice.
And ‘it doesn’t seem quite right’: Is that a judgment on the arbitrary unfairness of death, or on the whole business of war? And is there at least a hint of irony in that final ‘dulce est’? Is that what he’s trying to believe, but can’t quite?