The Spectator

The Spectator at war: Driven to distraction

‘Distraction’, from The Spectator, 5 September 1914:

EVER since the world began great trouble has been surrounded by ceremonial. From age to age the ceremonial changes. It tends to become a bondage or a hypocrisy, and bold social reformers step in, as they think, to destroy it, but immediately it appears again in a new form. Modern mourning is the sackcloth and ashes of the past. The grave tone in which we address the afflicted, though their trouble touch us but little, is as much a ceremonial as was the wailing of the ancient Jewish sympathizer. The Psalmist was greatly aggrieved because, when his false friends were in distress, he “humbled himself,” and his politeness was disregarded. His vexation was natural; he had done the seemly thing with a good intention, and the levity of his acquaintances had caused them to misunderstand him. They were too light-minded to know the meaning of seemliness. Their trouble in particular was typical to his mind of trouble in general, and he showed to them a deference and respect due to distress. Again, when patriotic zeal and anxiety caused him to fast, this was “turned ” to his “reproof.” A good many people to-day are in the position of the Psalmist’s friends. The nation is in trouble and anxiety. Those whom the fact has rendered immovably grave and serious give them offence. In their minds the best thing which a man can do for himself and those about him is to seek distraction. The less civilized Englishman seeks it in the public-house. His most effectual distraction is drunkenness, and he—and his wife—have indulged in it lately to a much greater extent than those whose avocations keep them to great thoroughfares or rich residential neighbourhoods have any idea of.

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