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Concerning "A Student in Arms"

A Letter from a New York Clergyman

New York, February 27,1917.


I wish that every preacher-man from ocean to ocean might read A Student In Arms. I have just written my brother to get the book and make it the order of the day to read it, if he really wants his religion to be brought down to the ground on which ordinary men walk and to be introduced to the trenches in which life's problems are really being fought out and worked over. Any man who thinks it is all over with religion because the world is at war will get something of the same thrill, something of the same burning of the heart within him, which came to the disciples of Jesus when after Calvary they found out that it was not all over with this new life and hope.

It is a wonderful book and there never was a more timely gift. Next week I am to deliver, by invitation, five addresses to men on consecutive evenings. Every one of these addresses will have a definiteness of aim, a human appeal, a chance of doing some real good, for which a large share of credit will have to be given to A Student In Arms. If my message fails to reach the mark, it will be in spite of having had the help of one of the most vital and vigorous of books.

Yours sincerely and gratefully,

A Congregationalist Minister.

An English Newspaper Article


At present it is my belief that there is nothing more important in the publishing world than the extending fame and huge sale of A Student In Arms. The book, which has before been referred to here, was published nearly a year ago. Between May and August four fair editions were sold. Then came the author's death on the Somme, and a largely increased demand. Every week the demand has grown greater, and every edition has been larger than the preceding one. The twelfth edition, now announced, is ten thousand copies. That is a wonderful record for a book of the kind, but it is not all. After a year it has suddenly caught on in America, and is going like a flame. Canada is publishing a huge edition immediately, and cables are pouring in from South Africa, Australia and other parts of the British Empire. Purely from the point of view of a commercial success, A Student In Arms is probably the most notable literary event since the war broke out.

It was not, however, to tell the commercial story of this book---with which I have a rather intimate connection---that I quoted the foregoing figures. It was in order that one might inquire into the secret behind this great and increasing popularity. Only recently we have been looking at the matter of "significance in literature," and here is a book that supplies a modern illustration which is of the utmost importance. A Student In Arms was in itself of significance because it was the expression of the soul of the New Army from the double point of view of a private and an officer. The private found speech, and unconsciously revealed himself as the finest kind of hero. The officer, with more self-consciousness, described his own emotions and the thought that came to a man of his class when he was looking into the very jaws of hell. Here, then, is the explanation of the interest that the book excited from the very beginning. The understanding reader began to see, for the first time, the spiritual side of war; rejoiced because it showed some compensation for all the horrors, and was made confident of the final result, since it revealed the unconquerable soul of the new two-million army, who could meet death with a smile and give up their lives without a regret.

The increasing popularity of the book is even more significant. It shows that the secret of the book is being discovered by the entire people of the British Empire, and by the people of America as well, in this grave crisis in the history of that nation. What is the secret? Briefly, it is contained in that sublime verse which is one of the most heart-breakingly beautiful things in the Burial Service: "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is Death. O Death, where is thy sting? A Student In Arms presents to us the sublime spectacle of an army of which practically every unit has slain fear. There is no greater deed in the moral and spiritual world than this. After fear is slain, the sublimest heroism becomes inevitable, and in one sense commonplace. That is why men who survive after the victory, with unaffected modesty, are mostly troubled with public ovation and recognition. "Any other fellow would have done the same," is a common remark. It is true, and the " Student" reveals the thrilling spectacle of a national army of two million men to whom the sublimest heroism is not only possible, but is the opportunity that each longs for.

In truth, this secret that the "Student" revealed in his book, and thereby made a national event of first-class importance, and won for himself an undying name in literature, has been occupying my mind almost continuously for many months. Constantly in my mind the line has been singing, "Neither counted they their lives dear to them." For the reasons that have already been given, more than for the stateliness of its diction, that is one of the greatest verses in the whole Bible. The whole secret of martyrdom is in it; it expresses the destruction of "the last enemy, of after which martyrdom was not only simple, but almost welcome. Fear is the instinctive and natural feeling of the most finely tempered soul in face of imminent peril; but with them it is only the preliminary to a stage of spiritual exaltation. The fear is when they see only material force. The next stage is when they see "the chariots and the horses." After that it is easy to understand the recklessness of danger which is the result. In a recent article of Donald Hankey's that appeared, it is told of him that just before they went "over the top" he kneeled down with his men and spoke earnestly to them: "When we go over the top, it is either a wound and Blighty or death and the Resurrection." Who can doubt that he at least saw "the chariots and the horses," and knew that he would shortly be in their company?

The significance, then, of the Student in Arms wave that is now striking every shore of the British Empire, is that it conveys a proof that as a nation we are beginning to understand that "the last enemy " has got to be destroyed in life---that fear must be slain, and that until this happens we have not in this world war reached the stage at which victory is inevitable. Every parent who has a boy at the Front would like to believe that in the face of death he had the sustaining vision that the " Student" describes. The horrors of the war are so sickening, and the losses so appalling, that the whole head is sick and the whole heart faint when one thinks only of the body. When the eye is turned to the spiritual side, it is another matter. "Fear not them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do." Every great nation is free to-day because of the heroic souls, tempered by fire, who made this their practical watchword. They found it "sweet and beautiful to die for their native country," Dulce et decorum est pro Patria mori, as the Latin proverb has it. In the light of their sacrifice, fear is not only craven, but, being yielded to, is an indecency. It is the most sheer materialism---, it puts body above spirit, and in the last trial reckons not with spirit at all. The "Student" says no words like this in the pages of his book, but that is the message that shines out---clear, bracing, inspiring. I should not wonder if this book, by a layman, in which there is no pietism, but only high devotion, and no creed in the ordinary sense, but only profound religion expressed in Christian terms, were to be the means of the religious revival which so many people believe will be the outcome of the war.

In the London Christian Outlook, March 1, 1917

Short Extracts from U. S. Newspaper Reviews

His book is like nothing else that has been published in English. . . . It is no wonder that many thousands of copies of this book have been required in England to meet continuing demand. It answers many questions which thoughtful persons are asking about the war's inner meaning-questions that may come home to us.---N. Y. World.

A Student in Arms is bursting with things we all want to know. It is well worth reading and possessing.---Baltimore Evening Sun.

Wherever there are men at war, this is a book not only for the men who fight but for those who must remain at home---perhaps more for the latter than for the former.---Philadelphia Press.

This book will live, despite the ever-increasing flood of its fellows, because of its beautiful spirit and tone.---Chicago Herald.

For Americans the book will increase our conviction and resolve that our army must be a citizen army, based on universal service, and that the natural democracy of such a mingling must be fostered by every means in our power.---N. Y. Tribune.

Hankey kept his finer individuality intact, and saw comrades at arms with the vision of spiritual understanding. His thoughts, simply expressed, sound a finer note in the rush of "realistic" comment.---Boston Herald.

If the war has produced a single book in Germany approaching the fine and human qualities of Donald Hankey's A Student in Arms (Dutton), some friend of the Germans should immediately translate it and promote its circulation. It would be the best sort of German propaganda.----N. Y. Globe.

His book is unusual, intensely different, and indicates that in his death England lost a valuable man---one philosophic, humorous, religious, and gifted with literary ability.----Detroit Free Press.

This book deserves a place beside Rupert Brooke's sonnets and Mr. Britling Sees it Through.---N. Y. Churchman.

They are unique among war correspondence in that they present very little of material facts and dwell almost entirely upon the effect upon the soul and mind of the private soldier of the conditions and activities of war.---N. Y. Times.

He is an open-minded inquirer; both because of the subject and of its literary merits the book will be read after the war excitement is over.---N. Y. Sun.

A "war book" of quite an unusual kind, dealing With the deeper things of human life---a book that will survive among the best of that eventful period.---Richmond Times Despatch.

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