The “Glorious Dead” by Richard King

Story type: Essay

For a long time past people have been–and, I suppose, for a long time hence people will be–dusting their imaginations in order to discover the most fitting tribute their and other people’s money can erect to the memory of the sailors and soldiers who died so that they and their children might live. And yet it seems to me that in most of these tributes the wishes of the “Glorious Dead,” or what might easily be regarded as their wishes, have rarely been consulted. The wishes of the living have prevailed almost every time. Thus the “Glorious Dead” have, as it were, paid off church debts, erected stained-glass windows in places of worship which are beautified considerably thereby, paid for statues of fallen warriors which have been placed in the middle of open market-places to attract the passing attention of pedestrians and the very active attention of small birds. A thousand awkward debts have been wiped out by the money collected for the memory of deeds which for ever will be glorious, and yet, it seems to me, in most of the cases the wishes of the wealthy living–and of a very narrow circle of the living–were at all times the primary, albeit the unconscious, object which lay behind the tribute. And the worst of it is that so many of these memorials to “Our Glorious Dead” are as “dead” as the heroes whom they wish to commemorate. In ten years’ time they will, for all practical purposes be ignored. Maybe some little corner of the world is more lovely for their being, but the world, the new and better world, for which the “Glorious Dead” died, is just as barren as ever it was. Rarely, only rarely, have these memorials been at all worthy of the memory which they desire to keep alive. And these rare instances have not been popular among the wealthy and the Churchmen, whose one cry was that “something must be done”–something beautiful, but useless, for preference. Mostly, they constitute some wing added to a hospital; hostels for disabled soldiers; alms-houses, and other purely practical benefits which afford nothing to gape at and not very much to talk about. People infinitely prefer some huge ungainly statue or some indifferently stained glass window, any seven-days’ wonder in the way of marble, granite, or glass. They would like the Cenotaph to fill St. James’s Park, and fondly believe that the “Glorious Dead” would find pride and pleasure in such a monstrosity. But it seems to me that any memorial to the dead heroes falls short of its ideal which does not, at the same time, help the living in some real practical and unsectarian way. Heroes didn’t die so that the parish church should have a new window or the market place a pump; they died so that the less fortunate of this world should have a better chance, find a greater health, a greater happiness, a wider space in the new world which the sacrifice of their fathers, brothers, and chums helped to found.

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