Notes on Life and Letters HTML version

4. Poland Revisited—1915
I have never believed in political assassination as a means to an end, and least
of all in assassination of the dynastic order. I don't know how far murder can ever
approach the perfection of a fine art, but looked upon with the cold eye of reason
it seems but a crude expedient of impatient hope or hurried despair. There are
few men whose premature death could influence human affairs more than on the
surface. The deeper stream of causes depends not on individuals who, like the
mass of mankind, are carried on by a destiny which no murder has ever been
able to placate, divert, or arrest.
In July of last year I was a stranger in a strange city in the Midlands and
particularly out of touch with the world's politics. Never a very diligent reader of
newspapers, there were at that time reasons of a private order which caused me
to be even less informed than usual on public affairs as presented from day to
day in that necessarily atmosphereless, perspectiveless manner of the daily
papers, which somehow, for a man possessed of some historic sense, robs them
of all real interest. I don't think I had looked at a daily for a month past.
But though a stranger in a strange city I was not lonely, thanks to a friend who
had travelled there out of pure kindness to bear me company in a conjuncture
which, in a most private sense, was somewhat trying.
It was this friend who, one morning at breakfast, informed me of the murder of
the Archduke Ferdinand.
The impression was mediocre. I was barely aware that such a man existed. I
remembered only that not long before he had visited London. The recollection
was rather of a cloud of insignificant printed words his presence in this country
Various opinions had been expressed of him, but his importance was Archducal,
dynastic, purely accidental. Can there be in the world of real men anything more
shadowy than an Archduke? And now he was no more; removed with an atrocity
of circumstances which made one more sensible of his humanity than when he
was in life. I connected that crime with Balkanic plots and aspirations so little that
I had actually to ask where it had happened. My friend told me it was in Serajevo,
and wondered what would be the consequences of that grave event. He asked
me what I thought would happen next.
It was with perfect sincerity that I answered "Nothing," and having a great
repugnance to consider murder as a factor of politics, I dismissed the subject. It
fitted with my ethical sense that an act cruel and absurd should be also useless. I
had also the vision of a crowd of shadowy Archdukes in the background, out of
which one would step forward to take the place of that dead man in the light of
the European stage. And then, to speak the whole truth, there was no man
capable of forming a judgment who attended so little to the march of events as I
did at that time. What for want of a more definite term I must call my mind was
fixed upon my own affairs, not because they were in a bad posture, but because
of their fascinating holiday-promising aspect. I had been obtaining my information
as to Europe at second hand, from friends good enough to come down now and