Quote: I am that civilization you are fighting for. (April 20, 1914)
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Wed Apr 3 00:30:47 UTC 2013
Nigel Rees mentioned an anecdote set during World War I in his newly
released April 2013 "Quote . . . Unquote" Newsletter:
[On being asked why he was not fighting to defend civilization in the First
World War]: 'Madam, I am the civilization they are fighting to defend' -
Heathcote William Garrod (1878-1960). Attributed by Dacre Balsdon in Oxford
Then and Now (1970). Garrod was a classical scholar and literary critic.
Note how the line was incorporated in Hugh MacDiarmid’s poem 'At the
Cenotaph' (1935): 'Keep going to your wars, you fools, as of yore; / I'm
the civilisation you're fighting for.' Sometimes misascribed to Lytton
The esteemed Yale Book of Quotations has this quote and lists the same two
supporting citations. Also, Nigel included it in his wonderful compilations
Cassell's Humorous Quotations (2001) and Brewer’s Famous Quotations (2006).
The earliest evidence I've located was published in August 1914 in a London
periodical called The New Age. The word "civilization" was spelled with an
"s" instead of a "z".
[ref] 1914 August 20, "The New Age: A Weekly Review of Politics, Literature
and Art", Volume 15, Observations and Reflections by A.B.C., Quote Page
379, Column 1, Published by New Age Press, Limited, London. (Verified with
PDF of page images) [/ref]
I heard another good retort of an artist upon a volunteer who reproached
him for not enlisting. I, he said, am the civilisation you are fighting for.
The story in "The New Age" radiated to other continents. By October 1914
the tale was being printed in newspapers in New Zealand and Australia.
[ref] 1914 October 17, Ashburton Guardian, Volume 33, Here and There, Quote
Page 6, Column 1, Ashburton, New Zealand. (Papers Past: National Library of
New Zealand) [/ref]
"I heard a good retort of an artist upon a volunteer who reproached him for
not enlisting," says a writer in the "New Age." "I," he said, "am the
civilisation you are fighting for."
[ref] 1914 October 24, The West Australian, Table Talk: From Far and Near,
Quote Page 11, Column 1, Perth, Western Australia. (Trove Digitized
Excerpt omitted. The text for the citation above is similar to that given
for the previous citation.
In April 1915 a version of the anecdote was printed in Boston,
Massachusetts. The New Age was credited, but the description was more
elaborate. In addition, the quotation used the word "that" instead of
"the", and "z" instead of "s": "I am that civilization you are fighting
[ref] 1915 April 22, The Youth's Companion, Volume 89, I Am It, (Short
freestanding item with acknowledgement to The New Age), Quote Page 204,
Column 4, Perry Mason, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest American
I AM IT.
The New Age tells of an artist of some reputation who was reproached by a
volunteer for not enlisting. He gazed a while at the younger man with
impenetrable calm; then, slowly and with grave dignity, he said: "I am that
civilization you are fighting for."
The item was reprinted in multiple U.S. publications during May and June of
1915. The text was similar. The phrase "that civilization" was used, and
the New Age was credited.
[ref] 1915 May 20, Life, I Am It, (Short freestanding item with
acknowledgement to The New Age), Quote Page 920, Column 1, Life Publishing
Company, New York. (ProQuest American Periodicals) [/ref]
[ref] 1915 May 31, Charleston Daily Mail, He Was It, (Short freestanding
item with acknowledgement to The New Age), Quote Page 4, Column 6,
Charleston, West Virginia. (Database presented an incorrect date of May 30,
but the image indicated May 31) (NewspaperArchive) [/ref]
[ref] 1915 June 22, Washington Post, I Am It, (Short freestanding item with
acknowledgement to New Age), Quote Page 6, Column 4, Washington, D.C.
In 1916 a newspaper in Salt Lake City, Utah used the phrase "the
civilization" which accords with the most common version today.
[ref] 1916 April 9, Salt Lake Tribune, I Am It, (Short freestanding item
with acknowledgement to The New Age), Quote Page 8, Column 7, Salt Lake
City, Utah. (NewspaperArchive) [/ref]
I Am It
They are telling the story of an artist of some reputation who was
reproached by a volunteer for not enlisting. He gazed a while at the
younger man with impenetrable calm; then, slowly and with grave dignity, he
said: "I am the civilization you are fighting for."-The New Age.
Finally, in 1919 the Washington Post attached a name to the anecdote: Lord
[ref] 1919 November 16, Washington Post, Section: Sunday Magazine, He Said
It, Quote Page SM12, Column 2, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest) [/ref]
He Said It.
Lord Dunsany was one day sitting in a London cafe. Two young women drumming
up recruits for the British army came in. They knew his lordship and
hastened over to him.
"Aren't you going to fight for civilization, Lord Dunsany?" one of them
There is no droller person on earth today than this same Lord Dunsany.
"My dear young woman," he said, looking up from his tea, "I am the
civilization for which we are fighting."
-Clark McAdams, in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
In 1941 the Christian Science Monitor published the following instance.
[ref] 1941 April 19, Christian Science Monitor, 'No Time for Comedy' in
London by Harold Hobson (Dateline London), Quote Page 13, Column 2, Boston,
Massachusetts. (ProQuest) [/ref]
A professor of poetry was stopped in the street by an irate woman during
the last war. She demanded, "Why aren't you with our soldiers fighting to
preserve civilization?" He replied, "Madam, I am the civilization they are
fighting to preserve." The professor had been five times rejected for
military service, and so could give that reply with an easy conscience. Yet
there is more than a suspicion of truth in it. It is folly to abandon
culture when culture is one of the things that make civilization worthwhile.
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
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