Charles Darwingabriel-von-max-affen


Charles Robert Darwin FRS (1809-1882) – Naturalist and evolutionary biologist.

‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection,’ published in 1859, can be viewed as one of the most significant scientific texts ever written. In it, Darwin asserted that all the different varieties of life on earth had evolved from a common ancestry that had lived millions of years ago and that furthermore, in the struggle for life, only the fittest creatures survived, whilst others had succumbed and had become extinct.


Darwin’s conclusions were based on extensive research that he had carried out between 1831 and 1836, when he had accompanied Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy, who, as Captain of HMS Beagle, had been despatched to undertake a detailed hydrographic study of the South American coastline. An additional purpose of the voyage had been to gather information on the geological features of erratic glacial rocks in that part of the world, at the request of the eminent Victorian geologist, Sir Charles Lyell. Lyell’s book, ‘Principles of Geology,’ which Darwin took with him on HMS Beagle, had been very influential in shaping Darwin’s appreciation of the significance that very small changes, occurring over extremely long time periods extending over millions of years, had exerted upon not only natural geological but also biological, processes, on the planet.

Despite undoubted antagonism from committed ‘creationists,’ ‘Origin of Species’ rapidly became a best-seller, and for its fifth edition, Darwin borrowed the phrase ‘Survival of the Fittest’ from the philosopher, Herbert Spencer, and he added this to the title page of his book.

Publication of ‘Origin of Species’ introduced a radical new world-view into science. It did not, however, dispel ‘creationist’ thinking or beliefs. These have remained prominent, and even entrenched in certain elements of society, well into the 21st Century.

“When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go…”

Charles Hamilton Sorley (1895-1915) – Scottish poet, World War I.

 For Remembrance: soldier poets who have fallen in the war, a book published in the UK, USA and Canada in 1918.
In early 2016, I completed writing an original poem entitled ‘Endeavour – a Call to Action,’ which I had set to the music of two of Elgar’s Enigma Variations. I wrote this poem to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme – the largest and most ferocious battle on the Western Front, lasting from 1 July to 18 November 1916, which resulted in over one million men being killed or wounded.

My poem opened with the words:
‘Do not the fallen deserve something better
than to watch the earth scorched once more by sinister hands.’

With these thoughts, I was reflecting upon the tragic consequence in terms of loss of life, loss of talent and unfulfilled potential that resulted from WW1, where an estimated 8-10 million allied military personnel were killed. I posed the question as we move forward in the 21st Century: Do we give sufficient recognition to those who sacrificed their lives during the course of the last century in the fight for freedom? How do we ensure that we sustain and value the legacy of those talented war poets as we honour the centenary of the Battle of the Somme in November 2016?

Then in Spring 2016, my good friend and playright, Neil McPherson, Artistic Director of the Finborough Theatre, London, sent me the text of a new play he had written, entitled: ‘It is Easy to be Dead,’ based on the poetry, letters and life of Charles Hamilton Sorley, one of the forgotten WWI poets, who was killed, aged 20y, in October 1915, at the Battle of Loos, Northern France. I recalled having read that this battle, nicknamed ‘The Great Push,’ which began in late September 1915 and finished at the end of the following month, had resulted in over 60,000 casualties from British and Commonwealth forces, including 20,000 personnel who fell in battle and have no known grave.

Neil asked if I would be interested to produce his play, and on reading the script, I soon found myself immersed in a 1916 edition of poems and prose by Sorley, named ‘Marlborough,’ the English public school that he had attended. I then located a separate volume which was published in 1919 by his parents, also after his death, which contained a collection of Sorley’s letters covering a four-year period, both prior to the onset of WW1, and including the time when he was engaged in the throes of trench warfare in France, up to the time of his death in October 1915.

I found Neil McPherson’s play very moving and instinctively felt there could be no better way of bringing Charles Sorley’s short life to the attention of a modern day audience than to do so through this new theatrical work, ‘It is Easy to be Dead.’

Neil and I met to discuss the play and the result – ‘It is Easy to be Dead’ premiered at the Finborough Theatre on 15 June 2016.

The critics were uniformly positive about the production. The Guardian, in its award of 5 stars, stated: ‘Neil McPherson has taken this somewhat forgotten figure, and drawing on his life, letters and poetry, created a magnificent tribute to a fiery spirit, extinguished in battle at the age of 20.’

The title of the play is taken from Sorley’s last poem, written shortly before his death, and found in his military kit. In this poem, he expresses his feelings about the stark and uncompromising reality of death, and the futility of weeping for the fallen soldiers. For these ghosts are but shadows of the men they once were; our tears and words mean nothing to them.

The Suffolk Regiment - WW1

‘Give them not praise. For deaf, how should they know.
Is it not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, ‘They are dead,’
Then add thereto,
‘Yet many a better one has died before.’

Altogether, six Sorley poems have been incorporated into the play.
Sorley’s love of Germany and its culture.

An earlier poem, entitled ‘To Germany,’ was written as a result of Sorley having spent the first half of 1914 initially staying at the home of a lawyer and his wife, in Mecklenberg, northern Germany, and subsequently undertaking studies at the University of Jena, in central Germany. In this poem, written on the eve of the outbreak of war, Sorley still conceived the possibility of peace being achieved. With remarkable maturity, he addresses the youth of Germany, saying: ‘You are blind like us, and then goes on to observe that both sides seem to be groping ‘through fields of thought confined. We stumble, and we do not understand.’
At the conclusion of the poem, however, he concedes that there will be more bloodshed as he refers to first, WHEN it is peace, and then immediately, qualifies this with the words, but ‘UNTIL PEACE,’ concluding with the combination of threatening elemental forces – each of which can be construed as a symbol of war – the darkness (the trenches), the thunder ( the cannons) and the rain (the showers of bullets).

"Battlefield Poppy." © Giles Revell

On 11 November 1985, Charles Sorley’s name was fifteenth in an alphabetical list of sixteen WW1 poets inscribed on a special commemorative memorial stone unveiled by the then Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, at Poets Corner, in Westminster Abbey.The inscription on the stone reads:
‘My Subject is War, and the Pity of War. The Poetry is in the Pity’ – words taken from the Preface to a Collection of Poems, by another WW1 poet, Wilfred Owen (1893-1918). At the Memorial Service that accompanied the unveiling of the Memorial Stone, Sorley’s poem, ‘ All the Hills and Vales Along’ was recited. This poem is also included in The play, ‘It is Easy to be Dead.’ In it, Sorley expresses his clear view on death – unlike either sleep or a reunion with nature, it is a heartless and horrific consequence of war.
‘When the bullet reaches you
Wherefore, men marching,
On the road to death, Sing!
Pour your gladness on earth’s head
So be merry, so be dead.’

British Infantry advancing at Loos 25 September 1915In an essay entitled ‘Poems from the Front,’ published in IWM ‘Despatches’ Magazine, summer 2014 issue, Professor Paul O’Prey, Vice-Chancellor of Roehampton University, points out that Shakespeare and Byron had to wait for more than a hundred years before they were honoured by a memorial stone in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey. The fact that the memorial stone laid in honour of sixteen WW1 poets was installed whilst the last of these poets, Robert Graves, was still alive, is an indication in Prof. O’Prey’s view, of how ‘the poetry of WW1 has established a unique hold on our collective imagination.’

As we now commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, transfer of the play ‘It is Easy to be Dead’ to ATG Trafalgar Studios 2 in Whitehall, from 9 November to 3 December, gives us an opportunity to appreciate the prophetic words of Scottish poet Charles Sorley when he painted the clear picture of the devastation of human life that war would cause, and that others would only discover after it was all over.
His prescient message is as relevant today as it was then.
Reproduced from an article written by Bréon Rydell for the Imperial War Museum, London, Nov 4th 2016

“Live your life so that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about his religion. Respect others in their views and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and of service to your people.”

Chief Tecumseh Tekamwthē (1768-1813), Shawnee leader.

Unlike the situation in Meso- and South America, when European explorers began to arrive in North America, no indigenous civilization had yet developed. The great expanse and wide range of environments that North America offered, meant that the native Indians lived as hunter-gatherers in scattered communities throughout the vast continent. There was a major difference between the aspirations of the French, English and Dutch explorers, whose primary interest was in making these newly discovered territories into their homes, and the Spanish, whose activities in Central and South America were mainly directed to extracting the wealth of these regions in order to take the treasure back to Spain. The Spanish also, via their priests, sought actively to replace the population’s pagan religion by Christianity.



The decimation of North American Indian communities can be attributed to a number of causes. Initially, disease played a major role as the local populations succumbed to pathogens introduced by Europeans to which the Indian communities had little or no immunity. Subsequently, recurrent warring between the tribes and settlers resulted in countless deaths. The issue of land ownership inevitably led to conflicts in which the Indian communities were the inevitable losers. Tribal lands were whittled away by the growing demands of increasing numbers of European settlers and their American successors.

The situation rapidly escalated once the American colonists won their War of Independence against the British crown in 1787. By the early nineteen hundreds, millions of acres of former Indian hunting grounds had passed into American hands.

The fundamental resistance by the Indian communities to the sale of their hunting grounds arose from a deeply held view was that land was a communal space in the custodial charge of man, not to be subject to sale.

Chief Tecumseh, who with his brother, the Shawnee Prophet, attempted to stop the advance of settlements in the Old Northwest. On the night when Chief Tecumseh was born, there was an incredible meteor shower. The elders in the tribe took this to be an omen and pronounced that this baby would go on to be a great leader, which he did. Chief Tecumseh would always be introduced at tribal councils as “Born under the sign of the Shooting Star.”

1812 CometChief Tecumseh believed that Indians must return to a state of purity, that they must forget intertribal rivalries and confederate, and that individual tribes must not sell land that all Indians held in common. He also gave this version of the Golden Rule: “Trouble no one about his religion … respect others in their views and demand that they respect yours…

Chief Tecumseh is honoured in Canada as a hero, who played a major role in Canada’s successful repulsion of an American invasion in the War of 1812 which, among other things, eventually led to Canada’s nationhood in 1867 with the British North America Act.

The last native American tribal community to be decimated and displaced were the Plains Indians, who occupied the vast region lying between the Mississipi and the Rocky Mountains. The westward extension of the railroads, the slaughter of the buffalo herds that had provided a livelihood for the native Indians for centuries, added to the discovery of gold in California in 1848, put the final seal on the fate of what remained of native American existence after close on 400 years of persecution.

“We owe respect to the living; to the dead we owe only truth – Voltaire.”

SLAVERYSlavery arose as an accompaniment to the emergence of human civilization. In the primitive society of the hunter-gatherer, there was no need for slaves, as people were more or less self-sufficient. There was nothing to be gained by, nor was there a requirement for, owning another human being.

Once people started to live in larger communities and settlements, the situation changed. There was a growing need for cheap labour. Inter-tribal conflict at a local level and larger-scale warfare followed by territorial conquests involving competing empires or dynasties, became frequent, and it became common practice to make slaves of defeated inhabitants of conquered lands. These conquests helped to expand the work force. If they were deemed unfit for this purpose, prisoners would be killed.

This became the most common practice in the majority of ancient civilizations. Others methods of acquiring slaves included piracy at sea, where the victims could be offered for sale at trading ports; other options included the imposition of a sentence of slavery on a convicted criminal, or the the loss of liberty associated with inability to repay a serious debt.

Already within the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi of c.1800, BCE, a distinction was made between ‘free’ men and slaves, and temporary ‘debt bondage’ was a recognized phenomenon. There are references to slavery throughout the biblical Old and New Testaments, indicating that slavery was an accepted part of everyday life at the time. There are also major inconsistencies. Thus, although obedience was expected of the slave, and kindness on the part of the master, as reflected in Deuteronomy, 23, 15/16: ‘Slaves who have escaped to you from their owners, shall not be given back to them. They shall remain with you in your midst. You shall not oppress them.’ But then in an earlier Chapter, 20, 10/20, instructions are given in the case of capture of a city from any of the enemy peoples, such as the Hittites, Amonites, etc., where the victors are advised to:’utterly destroy them,’ and ‘save alive nothing that breathes.’

Arab-Islamic Slavery 'Slave porterage in East Africa.'

Overall, the basic tenets of biblical guidance emphasised that persons captured as slaves in war, pass into the ownership of their captors and remain so. This was the view that was endorsed by the Christian Catholic Church right through to the 19th Century CE.

Slavery was also an accepted part of life at the time of Muhhamad in the 7th Century, CE, and the subsequent Muslim tradition that followed was to encourage continuation of the way of life of the Prophet, who was himself a slave trader who captured slaves in battle. However, the Qu’ran makes a point in respect of female slaves, that they should be well-treated.

In Buddhism, slaves known as Dasa, could be bought, sold or mortgaged, like any other property. Nevertheless, Buddhism castigates the buying and selling of human beings as a wrong means of earning a livelihood. However in reality, slavery continued to be widespread in Buddhist countries for centuries, until it was abolished by colonial powers during the course of abolitionist policies established in the 19th century.

In Greece, the majority of slaves were the equivalent of domestic servants, and in some instances, their status was more that of a serf than that of a slave. The mediaeval view of the serf was that it represented a type of bondage between the ‘lord of the manor’ and his lowly servant, which carried certain safeguards, protections and even privileges. On the other hand, for example, slaves could be employed as miners, many of whom were driven to death by the brutality of treatment from their owners.

In imperial Rome, there was a wide variation in the way slaves were treated. Some were forced to engage in combat as gladiators, whilst others reached privileged status by becoming administrative staff serving the Emperor.

The Muslim practice of employing slaves in the army had the unusual outcome in the case of the slave leaders of the Mamluks in Egypt, who deposed their local Sultan and seized power in the 13th Century CE, to form a dynasty that lasted for several hundred years.


In Europe, a major development in the evolution of slavery came about in the 15th Century, when the Portugese opened up West Africa to the Atlantic. In this way, a direct link was created between the coast of Guinea and the sugar cane, cotton and tobacco plantations of America and Brazil. Slaves had already been traded in Africa via the salt mines of the Sahara, but now captured Africans began to be shipped in large numbers across the Atlantic.

In 1452, a papal Bull was issued by Pope Nicholas V, called Dum Diversas, which granted the King of Portugal, Alfonso V, the right to reduce any “saracens, pagans and non-believers to hereditary slavery.” The Portugese and also the Dutch were very active also in importing slaves from their respective Far Eastern possessions to Europe and South Africa.

Other mediaeval European slave traders included the Vikings who called their slaves ‘thralls,’ and the Spaniards who participated in shipping slaves to the New World. However, Spain was one of the first European countries to abolish slavery when, in 1542, the Spanish crown issued an edict declaring that slavery was unjust and was therefore outlawed.

Ships emanating from ports in Britain developed a close working relationship with Portugese West Africa, participating in what was to become known as ‘the triangular trade.’ Commercial goods were delivered to and exchanged from West Africa, whilst the same ships were used to transport masses of slaves under most apalling conditions to the West Indies and Brazil. Many thousands would perish before reaching their destination.

In central Asia, the spread of the great Mongol and Timurid empires, was to bring in its wake, large numbers of captives who were taken into slavery, in addition to the mass killing of so many of the inhabitants of the conquered territories.

However in the midst of this evil trade and widespread carnage, as the 17th Century drew to a close, there arose in both England and the United States, two minority Christian groups, from the Mennonite and Quaker sects, who came together in generating a powerful anti-slavery lobby.
Members of these groups found that they shared a common view in their Christian faith, which was incompatible with the injustices of slavery. Despite their small numbers, these activists were able to muster significant influence and moral authority to challenge the indifference that was being shown by both Church and State to the awful plight of slaves, first in Britain and then in America.

The English poet, William Cowper (1731-1800) wrote:

'Men from England bought and sold me
Paid my price in paltry gold
But, though slave they have enrolled me
Minds are never to be sold.

(from 'The Negro's Complaint, 1786).
The Yorkshire politician, William Wilberforce led the vote in the British parliament in 1807, which made the slave trade illegal throughout the British Empire (The Slave Trade Act). This was followed in 1833 by the Slavery Abolition Act, following which, supporting signatories were obtained from over fifty African rulers. Six years later, the human rights organization called Anti-Slavery International was founded in Britain by the Quaker, Joseph Sturge.
In the late 18th Century, the French Revolution's  'Declaration of the Rights of Man,' inspired the native population of Haiti, a French colony in the Caribbean, to mount a revolution, which resulted not only in ending slavery, but also in the loss of French control of the colony. Thus a republic ruled by free black people, the first of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, was established in 1804.

Meanwhile, in North America, by the 1850's, the slave population, estimated at about four million in size, included all the black people living in the South. These amounted to about one third of the population as compared with only about 1% in the North. The newly established American Republican Party was dedicated to stopping the expansion of slavery, which it viewed as a backward system that threatened democracy and stood in the way of modernizing the United States economy.

<a class=Slavery-Picture

In 1860, the Republicans gained control by winning the Presidential campaign with the election of Abraham Lincoln. A year later, civil war broke out between the confederate states in the South, who wanted to maintain slavery, and the Northern states – the Union. In 1863, President Lincoln issued an Executive Order – the Emancipation Proclamation, that overnight changed the legal status of millions of slaves within the Confederacy and liberated all designated slaves.

Slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1865. Unfortunately, by 1900, nearly all the political power of black people that had been achieved during the Lincoln Reconstruction period following the end of the civil war, was lost, as was the right to vote. Furthermore, black people were subject to racial segregation in the North of the United States until passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of the following year.


Other key events in the 20th Century, that helped to write the final chapter in the history of human slavery gained momentum after the end of WW1, when in 1926, the League of Nations issued a global ban on slavery. This initiative was further extended in 1966 by publication of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – a Treaty that has been subsequently ratified in late 2003 by 104 nations.
children modern slaveryModern_day_slaverydaesh-girls-slaves-isis-3
Despite these impressive achievements, illegal forced labour and human trafficking continue to be significant problems in the 21st Century. Sadly, they involve considerable numbers of women and children.

“When sorrows come, they come not single spies. But in battalions!” William Shakespeare, Hamlet.


Since its inception, violence has featured as an integral part of human society within the hunter-gatherer communities right through to modern times.

The significance of human aggression becomes especially clear as a recurrent historical phenomenon in the magnitude of its impact in different parts of the globe. The cost regarding the loss of human life is, in some cases, staggering.

R.J. Rummel has traced the origins of what he has described as the phenomenon of ‘democide’ – defined as the large-scale slaughter of human beings undertaken as part of an organized programme of destruction whose aim is to impose the will and control of one individual or a group of individuals upon another. The key requirement is the need to satisfy the power-thirsty appetite of a dominant force in society upon what is perceived to be a weaker element. Invariably, the motivating force is that of power, and one of the common methods employed is that of subjugation by conquest or war imposed by a ruling or privileged minority.




Examples include Genghis Khan and the establishment of the Great Mongol Empire of the 13th century. This Empire was about four times the size of the Empire established by Alexander the Great. Genghis Khan’s rule and that of the members of his family who succeeded him as ‘The Great Khan’ after his death in 1229 CE, stretched from the Caspian Sea to Beijing. It included Central Asia, the Khwarezmian Dynasty and a substantial part of North and West China. Where subjugation was rejected, devastation followed as major cities throughout this vast geographic region were conquered. In many cases, no living thing was spared. Where Mongol rule was accepted, and the ‘universal ruler’ was revered, an organized society emerged which introduced stability, and new legal codes were established. Thus, for example, Genghis Khan declared freedom of religion throughout the Mongol Empire. Religion was viewed as a personal conviction that was not subject to law or interference by officialdom. Selling of women into marriage was forbidden and in many instances, stealing could be considered a capital offense.


Privacy Policy | Terms and Conditions | © 2017 Bréon Rydell | Web Design by Boyintree.com