A Noble Woman


12. Pulpit And Pen Unite In Denunciation

The publication of the official correspondence affording the details of Miss Cavell's stealthy execution raised a storm of righteous indignation, which found expression in every pulpit in the British Isles; while on the platform or in the press men of light and leading joined in their condemnation of the German atrocity. The following are but a few notable examples of whole sheaves of similar outpourings.

The Bishop of London, in preaching the Trafalgar Day Sermon, at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, said:

'The cold-blooded murder of Miss Cavell, a poor English girl, deliberately shot by Germans for housing refugees, will run the sinking of the Lusitania close in the civilized world as the greatest crime in history. There is one thing about the incident which, perhaps, was not taken into account by those who perpetrated the crime. It will settle the matter once for all about recruiting in Great Britain. There will be no need now of compulsion. I wonder what Nelson would have said if he had been told that an Englishwoman had been shot in cold blood by the members of any other nation? He would have made more than the diplomatic inquiries which have been made by a great neutral into this crime, right and proper as those inquiries are. He would have made his inquiries by the thunder of the guns of the British Fleet, and pressed the question with the Nelson touch which won Trafalgar, as, indeed, our own Fleet at this moment is only too ready to do. But is it possible that there is one young man in England to-day who will sit still under this monstrous wrong? The three million new recruits asked for will be there. Why was she put to death? Why was she murdered? Three thousand thousand Englishmen, and Scotsmen and Irishmen too, will know the reason why. God's curse is on the nation that tramples underfoot and defies the laws of chivalry which once relieved the horrors of war.'

The following is the Rev. F. B. Meyer's eloquent contribution:

'We may thank God for the chivalrous reverence in which the British race holds womanhood; and how nobly that reverence has been responded to is evident in the unparalleled service which the women of our time have been giving to fill the depleted ranks of labour and to render invaluable service in all departments, from the hospital to the harvest-field.

'The crowning horror of the German treatment of womanhood is the atrocious murder of this woman, who lived to alleviate suffering, and who only did what any one of us would have done in saving the lives of refugees who sought the shelter of a home. There should be no necessity for executing a woman in war-time; and if it is said that crime is committed in passion, the murder of Miss Cavell is inexcusable even on that ground, because she was executed in cold blood.

'It is impossible for any British men who are of suitable age and physical fitness for the army to hold back, because it is certain that the measure meted out to Nurse Cavell would be gentleness itself compared to the treatment which would befall our womanhood if once the German invasion triumphed over our resistance.

'If only the crime that we deprecate to-day would lead us to concentrate our thought on the War, we should be doing more than we realize towards bringing it to an end. The pessimist, the croaker, the grumbler, the critic, work in a contrary direction. Our enemies, with their Hymns of Hate and concentrated venom, endeavour to hurt us, and they forget that passions of that sort recoil on their instigators as poisonous gases roll back with the wind to those who sent them. We do not concentrate in a spirit of revenge or hatred, but in the stern resolve of an entire nation that we shall never stay our hands until our Empire is free from all fear of menace.

'Miss Cavell has set the world an example of how we should bear ourselves in a supreme crisis. Her heroic conduct, her calm composure in the face of death, cannot be accounted for merely by her temperament. They were due to her religious faith.

'She died as a Christian, looking towards the Redeemer, and forgave her persecutors, and she will go on ministering still.

'A life like hers will reverberate through the world. Thousands will be inspired by her example, and long after the War has passed away her name and character will shine like a beacon light in history.'

The Rev. Lord William Cecil contributed a special sermon to the columns of the Daily Telegraph, of which is quoted only the final portion:

'Edith Cavell lives in the heart of the nation; nay, in the esteem of the world.

'She by her deed has won undying renown, and has made England more glorious. Far and wide will they tell the tale, and add--"Of such are the English."

'The work of the statesman passes. New generations arise, with new problems and new combinations. The victories of the general are forgotten or live in the musty pages of history with dates and sententious comments of the historian. But glorious deeds of sacrifice never die. They live and grow mightier as years roll on.

'The old English chronicler, Hall, after discussing the question whether Joan of Arc was justly killed or no, adds this comment--that "it matters not, for in a few years the whole story will be forgotten." Poor fool! He forgot that good deeds live, and therefore can never be forgotten. So we shall tell the story of Edith Cavell to the wondering children, and they on their knees will lisp in childish words a prayer that they may grow like such a holy woman.

'And the ages that are to come will learn her name. Yes, long after other great actors in this awful tragedy are forgotten--when the names of kings and kaisers are lost in the obscurity of the past--the sacrifice made by Edith Cavell will be remembered as we remember the holy deeds of saints and the martyrdom of the Christian virgins.

'This foul world needs some saint to save it.

'The world that tells lies, breaks sworn treaties, murders and kills, needs a ransom. Vile as it is, so vile that those who look on it marvel at the depravity of human nature, and now, as a sin-offering, a woman has been offered by the blood-lusting Germans.

'The sacrifice will surely tell in the great world beyond, and a blessing will come from her death.

'The heavenly trumpets sound the victory. Fear and cruelty shall not prevail. Honour, love, and sacrifice are conquerors. And this world will be saved from that combination of human power and vileness which is revealed to the world by the Prussian military system.

'Edith Cavell, by her sacrifice, pleads with God to send righteousness again on this war-torn earth.

'She will conquer.'

Mr. T. P. O'Connor delivered more than one eloquent speech, and that which we quote may be accepted as the voice of Ireland:

'If ever we had any doubts as to what our duty is in this War, it must have been removed by the events of the past few days. We have given to this cause of liberty one of the noblest figures that ever appeared in the martyrology of liberty throughout the history of the world.

'I like to think of Miss Cavell as a symbol of our race. By her devotion to duty, her assiduity in her work, her determination to stand by her post, her humanity to the enemy as well as to the friend, her words of courage, and at the same time of broad pity and humanity, even under the shadow of death, that woman has done more to inspire our race in our fight than the gallantry even of a hundred thousand men.

'I am glad to see that a great newspaper has opened a fund for the purpose of raising an adequate monument to her memory; but no monument of marble or of bronze will speak as her own personality, her own life, and her death.'

The following is extracted from a powerful article by Professor J. H. Morgan in the Graphic;

'The execution of Miss Cavell is not, perhaps, the most revolting of the innumerable outrages committed by the German army, but it is certainly the most callous and the most authoritative. Hundreds of women and young girls have been outraged by German officers and men; many have been shot, and others burnt alive. But what distinguishes the case of Miss Cavell--not forgetting the singular nobility of her character--from these obscurer tragedies is the fact that, owing to the presence of the vigilant and high-minded Minister of a neutral State, the veil has been lifted upon the whole proceedings, from their inception to their mournful conclusion in the courtyard of the prison of St. Gilles, and the world has had revealed to it in the most lurid light the sinister character of German "justice."

'The noble woman who, out of the abundance of her charity, sought to save men from these things has been condemned and executed on a charge of having offended against military law. I know nothing more tragically ironical than that the Power which has broken all laws, human and divine, should seek to justify the condemnation of Edith Cavell with all the pomp of a tribunal of justice. While thousands of ravishers and spoilers go free, one woman who had spent her life in ministries to such as were sick and afflicted is handed over to the executioner. Truly there has been no such trial since Barabbas was released and Christ led forth to the hill of Calvary.'

Mr. G. K. Chesterton contributed a scathing indictment to the Illustrated London News;

'There is not much that can be said, or said easily, about the highest aspects of the murder of Edith Cavell. When we have said, "Dear in the sight of God is the death of His saints," we have said as much as mere literature has ever been able to say in the matter.

'The thing was not done to protect the Prussian power. It was done to satisfy a Prussian appetite. The mad disproportion between the possible need of restraining their enemy and the frantic needlessness of killing her is simply the measure of the distance by which the distorted Prussian psychology has departed from the moral instincts of mankind. The key to the Prussian is in this extraordinary fact: that he does truly and in his heart believe that he is admired whenever he can manage to be dreaded. An indefensible act of public violence is to him what a poem is to a poet or a song to a bird. It at once relieves and expresses him; he feels more himself while he is doing it. His whole conception of the State is a series of such coups d'état. In Poland, in Alsace, in Lorraine, in the Danish provinces, he has wholly failed to govern; indeed, he has never really attempted to govern. For governing means making people at home.

'Wherever he goes, and whatever success he gains, he will always make it an occasion for sanguinary pantomimes of this kind. And awful as is the individual loss, it is well that now, at the very moment when men, wily or weak, are beginning to talk of conciliatory possibilities in this incurable criminal, he should himself have provided us with this appalling reply.'

Mr. Hall Caine attended the great Memorial Service in St. Paul's Cathedral; and below is a short extract from his impressions as recorded in the Daily Telegraph;

'What has brought this multitude together? A great victory? The close of a great campaign? The funeral (as at this time last year) of a grand old warrior who, after many glorious victories, has died, as is most fit, within sound of the guns in the War he foretold, and is being borne to his lasting place amid the acclamations of his countrymen and the homage of the world? No, but the memory of a poor woman, a hospital nurse, who has been foully done to death by a barbarous enemy, condemned for acts of mercy and humanity, tried in secret, shot in haste, and then buried in a traitor's grave!

'What a triumph for religion, for Christianity, for the Church! What an answer to Nietzsche! What a rebuke to Treitschke! What a smashing blow to the all-wise philosophers who have been telling us that Corsica has conquered Galilee! That in these dark and evil days the people of London should assemble in tens of thousands to thank God for the shadow of the scaffold and to find inspiration in thinking of the martyr's end is proof enough that not lust of empire, not "the will to power," not war for its own sake or for the triumphs it brings in its train, but religion, with its righteousness, is still the bread of our souls.'