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Last updated:24 April 2015

Francis Fletcher Vane: Selected writings

The war and one year after
Anti-war writings
The suffragette movement
On certain fundamentals
The other illusions


The War and One Year After (extract)

Francis Fletcher Vane: Boer War

Containing reports made by an Imperial Officer to the Colonial Office respecting farm burning, the arming of natives, martial law mal-administration...

Dedicated Without Permission
to the
The Great Reformer

Stop the War - Drawing by Walter Crane for the anti Boer War movement

Stop the War : Drawing by Walter Crane for the anti Boer War movement

Who in recent years has completely revolutionised our ancient British system, both in Diplomacy and in War, by eliminating the antiquated methods of courtesy in one and of chivalry in the other.

The great Minister who is chiefly responsible for a war in which some 60,000 lives and some 250 millions of treasure were lost, a war apparently waged for the purpose of showing the world, and especially South Africa, that they had been mistaken in believing in such quixotic ideals as are for instance, British honour, justice, and fair play, and replacing these by the more practical policy of "Commercial wiles and ancient craft."

The great Statesman who, more than any man, can claim to have created a living nationality in South Africa, opposed it is true to his commercially founded Empire, but determinately loyal to its own ideals; who moreover has shown such great patriotism for the country of his birth that he is now attempting to induce the poor and struggling of his land to show such reverence for his Commercial Empire, as to cause the 12 million Englishmen who live on the verge of starvation, to pay, out of a wage which in this Colony no Kaffir would accept, an additional sum levied on every article of domestic consumption.

The great Politician who, in the House of Commons, patriotically denied that farms had been burnt, natives armed, and enemies shot for wearing khaki, while at the time he possessed the evidence of British officers, clearly proving that all these things had been done by orders directly emanating from his Government, and against the wishes of the officers themselves.

The great Merchant who, by means of the company with which he and his family are connected, supplied in the most patriotic and the most businesslike manner, arms and ammunition for the troops, and with self-sacrificing energy refused to allow the male members of his family to have any part or share in the honours of the war, preferring that they should command a Kynoch rather than a Yeomanry Company.

Then as Minister, Statesman, Politician, and Merchant, while fearing that he may not succeed in converting his countrymen from their archaic convictions, respecting justice and fair play, while fearing no less that such exploded political theories as those of honour, of economic science, and of logic, may yet prevail in this unenlightened age and not yet be replaced by the newer and the more efficient commercial methods of bluff and swagger, yet in his noble attempt to achieve the impossible, I feel he is deserving of the reward which he assuredly will obtain.

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Anti-war writings

"Patriotism, namely the attempt to carry out the best traditions of your race must not be confounded with racial aggressiveness which is a crime against philosophy. It would be a dull world if everybody in it possessed British characteristics and traditions and it would also be an unprogressive world. I tremble to think of its pictures and its Sundays.

Internationalism is coming about through natural forces and increased facilities of transport, great interests are combining to help each other and the greatest of these is Labour. Patriotism in the proper sense is no more developed than that of the beasts of the field for it is based on the same principles of hatred and destruction of neighbours and it is not one bit more reputable when effected through the Stock Exchange than more simply by the teeth."

(Vane comments upon his attendance at the 17th International. Peace Conference) ;-

"In a short speech I told them how the matter occured to me which I will repeat here and now because it is not by philosophers and statesmen or even by kings that peace will ensue but by the common people and by the soldiers that it will eventually be enforced. Therefore, the first business of those who know the truth is to make the people understand not the bloodiness of war but its futility [...]

[...] Now while modern methods of war are not more destructive to the combatants engaged there are other people who are destroyed far from the field of battle and innocent of all blood guiltiness and these are the little children of the working classes, those who live generally on the verge of insufficiency of nutriment but who, when the millions of the nation to which they belong have been spent on war are given less than will enable them to arrive at maturity. Consequently, they silently die with no military honours at their funerals but they are not one whit less, the victims of the war [...]"

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The Suffragette movement

Correspondence from the February 1910 issue of the monthly journal of the Mens' League for Womens' Suffrage (in possession of The Women's Library)

Extracts from letters from Vane to a Mr Clayton who passed them on for publication

5th January 1910

"[...] I am sincerely in favour of it (Womens' Suffrage) because I believe womens' influence will do much to pacify and mollify politics, and I am not so much opposed to the active policy as some because I know enough of history to make it clear to me that no great cause is won without something being smashed whether it be corrupt nobles, inconvenient Houses of Parliament or plate glass windows. In fact, no cause is worth fighting for unless there are some enthusiasts self-sacrificing enough not only to become martyrs for it in the ordinary sense but that more difficult kind of martyrdom which is represented by what their enemies would call making fools of themselves for it [...]

[...] It is commonly said by the proud father and mother 'We are sending our son to school (at say, ten years) to harden him, to make a man of him'. Now, with a varied and somewhat lengthy experience of the world especially in administration, I am convinced that men, let alone boys, require softening, humanising, rather than hardening. So it appears to me that what the parent says above is wrong fundamentally and in this respect, possessing a wide knowledge of the Continent, I am convinced that the hardening theory is but little known there. The mother's influence is in fact, a dominant one up to the boy's entrance into manhood but no one has ever been bold enough to say that an Englishman is a braver fighter or a harder worker or a more finished gentleman than a foreigner of similar rank - yet many who have known the foreigner well and intimately have found him a kindlier man than the average Englishman. If no better reason existed therefore for 'Votes For Women', I should be in favour of it because it may help to regain the mother's rights over the boys and thereby make our politics, national and international kindlier politics and our world a pleasanter place

(signed) Francis Vane of Hutton"

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On certain fundamentals

"At bottom, the complete aristocrat is a potential socialist and a possible member of the Fabian Society while the Fabians are themselves potential aristocrats [...]

[...] During my election contest at Burton on Trent in 1906, I was once puzzled by a deputation of Trade Unionists who put the question to me; Was I in favour of land nationalisation? Now historically and personally, I am bound up with the principles of individual land-owning, my people possessed many thousands of acres for many hundreds of years. By a happy inspiration, I replied that as I was a believer in Feudalism, so necessarily I was in favour of nationalisation [...]

[...] Under feudalism it is clear that the ownership of wealth was sanctioned only for services to the state and if the service or responsibility thereby entailed was not acknowledged, some other fellow got it [...]

[...] If I am correct in asserting that there is a natural sympathy between what we may call the aristocrats and the workers in that both classes are disgusted at the sight of unrestrained individualism (the bastard child of commercial governance) then the present time is a favourable one for these two sympathetic classes to join hands.

The good man who has made money by cheating his customers and underpaying his employees would persuade us that his capital is more deserving of protection than ever he considered the estates of the landowners, while we know that both kinds of property were acquired by force. But there is more of the picturesque in taking the Saxon estates in war than ever can be in sweating women and children out of their share in the slums. For this good man forgets one rather important fact. He squeals because the 'predatory' County Council makes him fork out his pennies in the pound to support his indigent neighbours, while the feudal owner of the soil has been doing this thing through the centuries, not because he was forced but as a duty [...]

[...] There has recently arisen a question which might form a meeting point for both socialists and feudalists. This is the open sale of titles to undeserving persons through the medium of the Party Funds. To both of these cases the spectacle of a man who has no other recommendation than his wealth being promoted over the heads of his fellow men must be repugnant"

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The Other Illusions


Many have written, more especially Bloch and Norman Angell, exposing the economic illusions in respect to the advantages of even successful War, but I am convinced that these arguments are in themselves not enough. By these, it is true, you detach a certain number of persons of the upper and middle classes from the warlike policy which all countries have pursued. What we, who know the absurdity of War, have to do, it seems to me, is to show that the contests between nations are neither glorious, nor adventurous, nor ennobling. The intellectuals and the commercially interested may be affected by showing up the economic fallacies, but the mass of the people-the majority of a bellicose upper class bred up in traditions of War; the majority of the middle class who see an easy way out of international competition by it, who know that in spite of anything else at least for the moment War benefits many of their class, contractors and the like; and the vast majority of the nation, the manual workers, who think that a campaign against a national enemy is the easiest means of escaping from the grinding toil and dullness of life as they see it-all these will be hardly affected by economic arguments. What we have to do is to dispel the Illusions which picture War as a gay, a gallant, and a coloured adventure, while at the same time showing the old, and the young, that Peace can be made all these, if they have been taught to understand it.

We must show that the glamour which surrounds War is false, an illusion which has descended from past conflicts, some of which were those of principle; and we must make it clear that Peace is not necessarily commonplace and dull, but is only made so by the present egregious industrial system.

In this pamphlet these questions have been taken in the order of their importance.

  1. The Illusion of the romance of War and its glamour.
  2. The Illusion that War has an ennobling effect on nations and on individuals.
  3. The Illusion that conquering nations obtain what is called prestige by armaments.
  4. The Illusion that Peace is necessarily dull and commonplace.

Neither the schools nor the churches have attempted to teach these things; they have, as a rule, been hobbling long after modern thought, as equity hobbles after law. But it was President Wilson of the United States who changed an old lie into a modern truth, for he said that if "we want Peace we must prepare for Peace."

How are we really preparing for Peace? I am a Peace man, and have proved this in War and after a War, yet nothing has made me so despondent in this matter as attending Peace Congresses. There, while many noble-minded men and women attend them, a number of the delegates are old women-of both sexes. They are always quite nice old women, but not virile enough to carry through a manly peace policy. In this connection an experience of mine in a village school is recalled.

A gentleman had offered to give a lecture on the beauty of Peace to the school there, and these wretched youngsters were kept in on a hot day to listen to it. When the writer arrived he found a stout and perspiring gentleman preaching of the commercial attractions of the commonplace existence to an audience, part of whom were asleep and the remainder clearly in revolt against the lecturer's propositions. In fact, he spoke without knowledge of the working of the child mind, for while he knew something of Peace, he knew nothing whatever of War, and, moreover, he certainly did not recognise that lie could not succeed in his excellent work until he had uprooted from the minds of the youngsters the false teachings that had been planted there as to what War really is. At the end of the lecture I whispered to the headmaster that this excellent person had probably made more warriors than pacifists. I think he agreed with me.


Dedication (from The Other Illusions)


In an eccentric electioneering campaign in 1906, while in no wise pretending to reject the ordinary joys of life, I found myself opposed to all the solid wealth which beer creates.

Then they asked me what was my political faith, and I propounded these truths:-

I am a Peaceman because I am a soldier.

I support Votes for Women because I am a Peaceman.

I am a Radical because I am an Aristocrat.

The effect of this declaration was amusing, because they scratched their collective heads and went murmuring:

Peaceman and Soldier. What does it mean?

Suffragist and Peaceman. Where is the connection?

Radical and Aristocrat. How funny?

Yet these propositions were neither funny nor contradictory - but the late Mr. Walter McLaren, M.P., who was with me, begged me to explain to my confused audience.

This was done in the simplest possible manner as now, and I am reminded of the explanation while dedicating this pamphlet to the three noble women mentioned above.


A Soldier who has eyes to see, a heart to feel, a soul to judge, must be a Pacifist.


Women, as I know to my cost, will fight to the last ditch for their homes and their children - did I not witness the capture of a fair Boer maiden in whose hands was an ugly looking rifle? - but they are opposed to Foreign Burglary which is called Conquest. They prevented their men from seriously invading Cape Colony, and, in fact, prevented them from capturing Mafeking because it was outside their limit.

Boer officers have told me that they were held by the coat tails by their wives.


If Chivalry means anything except archaic pageantry, which it does, it means the defence of the weak as against the strong, which in politics is Liberalism, some would say Socialism. The defence of the downtrodden, the slum dwellers, the starveling poor, the workers who by sinew, blood, bone, and life itself supply us with what we are pleased to call the necessaries of life - and even of death (a friend of mine, a Carrara marble miner, has just been killed, leaving his family destitute) - surely this is real Chivalry.

Yet often in politics we are looked upon as eccentric, and sometimes "disloyal," to our class if we fight against things which Knights and Nobles were erected to combat.

The three great women, to whom as homage this work against war is dedicated, were all among those who sacrificed much to attempt to teach stupid people their own stupid businesses - they were of those who suffered much and yet were kind. Having known them all I mention first that true Pacifist yet strenuous fighter for the downtrodden of the sex, the late Josephine Butler. No woman was more abused in her time by the vulgar minded and self interested, while she struggled for the noblest cause in the world, for the White Slaves, the victims of cruelty and lust.

Then Emily Hobhouse, who, in spite of calumny, vulgar music-hall abuse, personal violence, and Martial Law, went out to help, went out to War to help her sisters, the Boer women in the Camps. To my certain knowledge she did it effectively, and it was my lot to sit next to General Botha when he said. "What will bind us to the British Empire, we who are Dutch, is not its Navy, nor its Army, but the fact that a refined English lady came out to save our women and our little children, and saved 20,000 of them." A strenuous fighter for Peace-a chivalrous woman!

Then we have the Baroness von Suttner, who, in a militant Empire, had the courage of a brave soldier to fight for Peace when there was no Peace. She published her great work, "Lay Down Your Arms," at a time and in a place when anything but War seemed impossible, though by God's good grace it is more possible now.

To these three strenuous fighters for Peace and Justice and Humanity homage is due from all those who respect what is chivalrous and courageous.

This pamphlet has been written on the sands by the sea, where children are dancing in the sunshine. They have inspired my work as the friendship of the three noble women initiated it.

For on these sands also a great lesson of Peace is taught for those who can see. War, cruel enough to the combatants, is doubly so to those children now playing in the sunshine.

It is not the men who are killed and maimed in War who only deserve our sympathy, but to the casualty list of every battle should be added the thousand of little ones who are starved out of existence by the expenditure of a Nation's Capital.

Here also these children teach us another lesson. They are of all races and of all classes, and they play without a vestige of race or class prejudice. They are the natural Pacifists, yet sometimes one hears a harsh voice of a grown-up crying ''Olga,'' or ''Pio,'' or ''Jack, I don't want you to play with those nasty children," and then, in a moment, the golden sands and the blue sea are eclipsed by the vulgarity of man.

The child, if left to himself, will settle this question of racial vulgarity which we call War, but, alas, they will not leave him, and so he is prejudiced by out-of-date jealousy and suspicion. Some day it will be reckoned a mortal sin to vulgarise the minds of the young.

But Josephine Butler, Emily Hobhouse, and Bertha von Suttner are doing their work, and the children, playing in the sunshine, are backing it up. So to these great women and to these little children this pamphlet is dedicated, which was written surrounded by the young of the world.


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