Sir Henry Newbolt’s Speech at the Governors’ Meeting – Christmas Term 1917

At the Governors’ Meeting on December 7th, Sir Henry Newbolt made a never-to-be forgotten speech. At the outset he told it’s that he wished to consider only the future. The present, state of affairs would not do. We must have a new and entirely different world, and that difference would concern girls more than the rest. In the past, nations had differed as to the status of women, and England with her ally America had given a far higher place to women than that which they held in enemy countries. But the future would be far ahead of us.
The world had two compartments, and men, and women were different; the difference was largely that between prose and poetry or science and poetry. Woman’s place in the world was not in the arrangement of things according; to abstract scientific reasoning, this had already been sufficiently done. “Man delights in picking the world to pieces, finding out what it is made of and then making toys of it, such as guns and trains. This he thinks is fulfilling the whole object of existence.” It was for women to put man in his place, to show him that all this was of secondary importance. Her part lay in. the actual creation of those elements which were lasting, and had to do with the happiness of man. When a nation had made quantities of guns it had not changed man for the better nor added to the happiness and freedom of human life. Woman could create, a whole life for herself and for other people. “Everybody’s life is exactly what they make it by a conscious direction of their being – that is poetry.”
The most remarkable thing about poetry was that it created by an act of magic, it was saying, a thing in such a way that you could never forget it. There might be a very slight difference between prose and poetry, but it was all the difference. It was really the part of women to make that slightest difference felt. Though there are many men with all the gifts of a poetic mind, yet if men were left to themselves they would, be a set of crude, energetic and. highly prosaic people, and they would make an extraordinary and very uncomfortable world. It was for women to see that they did not think only of making and taking but also of giving.
The superiority of Englishmen was shown in their readiness to give and take. In Germany the highly abstract scientific view had the mastery, and men went to extremes which would be highly ridiculous if they were not so brutal. A poem had just been sent to him from Italy-the latest version of the Hymn of Hate for Italians. It was an appeal to Germans to raise the glory of Germany above all the world. “Kill your enemy” it exhorted the Germans, “but do not forget that it will be useless if you leave your son to fear his son; therefore kill all his women and children”! That was logic. Woman being herself a piece of poetry was always concrete. She would say that this reason­ing was absurd; she would rather say “You should never attack anyone if you do not wish his son to attack you.” If women had ruled the world the present war would never have come to pass. No woman would have tolerated the abstract scientific wickedness of this war.
“The future of the world,” Sir Henry Newbolt concluded, “lies in the hands of the women. Abstract, selfish principle in-List be merged in and overcome by the creative, poetical and truly human feelings, which we can only get through thee influence of women.”