What soldiers shouldn’t read

I’ve read some good articles over the years about the reading habits of soldiers in France, and the literature supplied to them.
What I hadn’t considered much before was what they were discouraged from reading. Here’s Arnold Bennett, writing in February 1919,  about the committee who ran the Camps Library, and made sure it did not contain material damaging to their own religious prejudices:

But I really am somewhat surprised at a recent action of that vast institution, the Camps Library, whose chairman is Sir Edward Ward (forty-four years’ military service), and whose honorary director is the Honourable Dame Eva Anstruther. We are being specially urged just now to remember that the soldiers still bound to the slack tedium of military duty need literature for their diversion. I have supported the Camps Library myself; but I shall hesitate about doing so in future—and I imagine that many others will hesitate—until some satisfactory explanation is given of the fact that the authorities controlling the Camps Library obstinately refuse gifts of books by Darwin, Huxley, Tyndall, Mill, Spencer, Matthew Arnold, Lecky, Ray Lankester, and other illustrious champions of man’s right to think for himself. In the autumn of last year a clergyman named Nolloth protested in the Daily Mail against the pernicious spread of rationalist literature in military camps. The official ban on Darwin, Matthew Arnold, and Co. appears to have been the result of this clerical protest. Messrs. Watts are the publishers of the cheap reprints of the aforesaid improper authors, and they had made a habit of presenting copies of their publications to the Camps Library. It was intimated to them that the habit must cease. Correspondence ensued. The following was the final epistle from the Honourable Dame Eva Anstruther: “In reply to your letter of the 23rd December, which I have shown to our chairman, Sir Edward Ward, I regret that I have nothing to add to my letter of 19th November informing you that, as we are reorganising this Library, we do not for the present see our way to accepting your kind offer of the popular scientific reprints.” And so that’s that. I should like to inquire whether the Camps Library refuses, or has ever refused, orthodox Church of England literature. I should also like to ask how long “for the present” is to continue. As long as it continues we are fronted with the interesting phenomenon that our “citizen army” is being officially deprived of an opportunity of reading Darwin’s Origin of Species and Matthew Arnold’s Literature and Dogma.


  1. David
    Posted April 9, 2016 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    As a matter of interest the Honourable Dame Eva Anstruther is the mother of the writer Jan Struther (Joyce Anstruther) whose character “Mrs Miniver” in the film of that name had such a major effect upon American public opinion in the early part of WW2.

  2. David
    Posted April 9, 2016 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    I suppose that in enacting censorship of this kind then there must be some personal prejudices and judgement in operation but I struggle to understand why some of the names mentioned were on the list of authors whose works they did not want to be distributed. The works of Darwin and Huxley I can see would cause problems in the minds of those with strong christian religious beliefs but some of the other authors I was unaware of and having looked them up can only think that there were some particularly narrow minded prejudices in operation. Tyndall, Lecky and Lankester seem to have been widely respected scientific and academic figures whose works should have given no cause for perturbation of the minds of those who ran the camp libraries. Though, perhaps Lankester was on this ‘not welcome’ list due to his support for Darwinism
    But why are Matthew Arnold and “Mill”,who I assume must be John Stuart Mill, on the list?
    As for the “Spencer”, I cannot identify which author is being referred to.

    • Roger
      Posted April 10, 2016 at 12:52 am | Permalink

      Bennett saya “Messrs. Watts are the publishers of the cheap reprints of the aforesaid improper authors”. Watts & Co. published books by subscription through the Rationalist Press Association and the committee probably solved the question of the suitability of individual books and authors by imposing a blanket ban on every book published by them.

      • Posted April 10, 2016 at 11:03 am | Permalink

        Herbert Spencer was an influential philosopher and theorist who applied Darwin’s thought to human society. He invented the term ‘survival of the fittest’.

        Matthew Arnold would have been on the Rationalist Press’s list because he challenged literal interpretations of the Bible, and suggested that Christian myths should be regarded much as the Greek and Romaan myths are, as literary constructions, not dogmatic truths:
        “The word ‘God’ is used in most cases as by no means a term of science or exact knowledge, but a term of poetry and eloquence, a term thrown out, so to speak, as a not fully grasped object of the speaker’s consciousness – a literary term, in short; and mankind mean different things by it as their consciousness differs.”

  3. Kalman
    Posted March 31, 2021 at 3:17 am | Permalink

    Hello Dr. Simmers,

    I am currently doing research on this topic and the article you posted is very helpful. Do you have the source for the article?


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